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Robert Greene 1558–1592

English playwright, author, and poet.

Although Greene was one of the most widely-read and prolific of the Elizabethan authors and was called "the Homer of women" by his friend Thomas Nashe, Greene is chiefly remembered today in relation to Shakespeare: his blank-verse romantic comedies are credited with...

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Robert Greene 1558–1592

English playwright, author, and poet.

Although Greene was one of the most widely-read and prolific of the Elizabethan authors and was called "the Homer of women" by his friend Thomas Nashe, Greene is chiefly remembered today in relation to Shakespeare: his blank-verse romantic comedies are credited with paving the way for Shakespeare by helping to rid the popular play of didacticism. Greene's Pandosto (1588) was the foundation for The Winter's Tale, and there has been much debate over the extent of Greene's authorship of parts of Henry VI. In addition to his poetry (which exists only as part of his plays), Greene wrote some three dozen romances, plays, and pamphlets, some of which championed women. His plays The Honorable Historie of Frier Bacon and Frier Bungay (written around 1591) and The Scottish Historie of James the fourth, Slaine at Fodden (written around 1590) are considered his best works. Greene varied his style throughout his career, writing initially in the elaborate euphuistic mode of John Lyly, turning later to romances, and eventually adopting a more realistic manner. One of the first great university playwrights, and one of a small group of professional writers (which also included Christopher Marlowe, Nashe, and Lyly) known as the "university wits," Greene wrote largely for the public rather than for the court. Between 1588 and 1592 Greene wrote the definitive works on the ways of criminals in the so-called conny-catching genre, and these works were widely plagiarized after his death. Greene's final works were partly autobiographical and marked by repentance for the carousing done earlier in his life.

Biographical Information

Born in Norwich, in Norfolk, England, the second child to Robert Greene, a saddler, and his wife, Mary, Greene was baptized in 1558. Little is known of his early life. He entered St. John's College, Cambridge, in 1575 on a scholarship, and received his degree in 1578. After a tour of the continent and time spent writing Mamillia, A mirrour or looking-glasse for the ladies of Englande (1580), Greene returned to the university. He received an M.A. in 1583 from Clare Hall, Cambridge. Greene married around 1585, but he abandoned his wife and newborn child in 1586 and went to London. There he became one of the earliest professional writers—that is, earning his living by writing for the public rather than by being sponsored by a benefactor. He received another degree from Oxford in 1588. Infamous for his carousing, Greene died, according to one account, in a drunken brawl in 1592.

Major Works

Greene's first work, Mamillia, owes a great debt to Lyly. Besides borrowing passages from him, Greene also copied Lyly's ornate euphustic style in this exploration of love. But Greene inverted the situation found in Lyly's Euphues: in Greene's Mamillia it is the women who are betrayed. Greene's sympathetic portrayal of women endeared him to many critics. Perimedes the Blacke-Smith (1588) contains a satirical reference to Tamburlaine the Great (a famous play by Greene's rival Marlowe). Menaphon. Camillas Alarum to Slumbering Euphues (1589) is a complex pastoral romance that focuses on nature and expounds Greene's moral concerns. This romance, considered Greene's masterpiece by some, contains one of his finest poems—sung by a woman to her child—with the repeated lines "Weep not, my wanton, smile upon my knee, / When thou art old there's grief enough for thee." A Notable Discouery of Coosnage: the Art of Conny-Catching (1591) was the first of Greene's several pamphlets on conny-catching (cheating or pilfering). Critics have long debated whether Greene knew of these practices first-hand (as he claims) and to what degree they should be regarded as nonfiction. Using the common speech of his intended readers, Greene's social commentary and exposé of such underworld criminals as card sharps, pickpockets, purse snatchers, and blackmailing prostitutes was enormously successful and soon followed by sequels. In A Dispvtation Between a Hee Conny-Catcher, and a Shee Conny-Catcher (1592) a prostitute wins a wager from a cutpurse over whether "whores or theeues" cause more damage to the Commonwealth. In The Defence of Connycatching (1592) one "Cuthbert Cony-Catcher" attacks Greene for cheating. Scholars have generally agreed that Greene himself wrote the work, enjoying a joke on himself and the public.

Critical Reception

Immensely popular for the last twelve years of his life, Greene's wrote prolifically—a situation which has led to claims that he wrote whatever he thought would sell. James Applegate has asserted that Greene boasted of his scholarship "to delude the gullible," and that he was "essentially a hack, trying to make a living from fast sales of ephemeral literature." Greene's varying styles are offered by critics as evidence that Greene chose whatever style he thought would be most popular at the time, and that he catered to the lowest level of his readers. These claims have been denied by others who assert that Greene at his best sometimes rivals Shakespeare. Morris Dickinson has written: "Without being original in structure or style Greene was individual in outlook and temper. He had a keener eye for the little things than any dramatist of his time, and he had also a better sympathy for the quick flashing moods and manifestations of human character." Charles W. Crupi has cited Greene's "rich and ambiguous treatments of human experience." Greene has also been praised for his narrative technique in his underworld tales, particularly in his quoting of criminals. By using their own words, or seeming to, Greene allows some sympathy for their condition and thereby partly implicates society for their crimes. Greene was famously vilified shortly after his death by rival poet Gabriel Harvey in Foure Letters and Certaine Sonnets and, although Greene was defended by Nashe, many of Harvey's remarks stuck with the public. Nevertheless, Frier Bacon and Frier Bungay and James the fourth are critically acclaimed as being among the best non-Shakespearean drama of their time.

Principal Works

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Mamillia, A mirrour or looking-glasse for the ladies of Englande (prose) 1580

Mamillia II (prose) 1583

Arbasto. The Anatomie of Fortune (prose) 1584

Gwydonius, The Carde of Fancie (prose) 1584

Planetomachia (prose) 1585

Alphonsus, King of Aragon (drama) 1587

Euphues his Censure to Phiautus (prose) 1587

The Scottish Historie of James the fourth, Slaine at Fodden (drama) 1588–92

Alcida. Greenes Metamorphosis (prose) 1588

Perimedes the Blacke-Smith (prose) 1588

Pandosto, The Triumph of Time (prose) 1588

Philomela. The Lady Fitzwaters Nightingale (prose) 1588?

Ciceronis Amor, or Tullies Loue (prose) 1589

The Honorable Historie of Frier Bacon and Frier Bungay (drama) 1589

Menaphon. Camillas Alarum to Slumbering Euphues (prose) 1589

Greenes Farewell To Follie (prose) 1591

Greenes Mourning Garment (prose) 1590

Greenes Neuer Too Late (prose) 1590

Greenes Orpharion (prose) 1590

A Notable Discouery of Coosnage: the Art of Conny-Catching (prose) 1591

Orlando Furioso (drama) 1591

The Second Part of Conny-Catching (prose) 1591

Greenes Groats-Worth of Wit bought with a Million of Repentance (prose) 1592

The Blacke Bootes Messenger. Laying Open the Life and Death of Ned Browne (prose) 1592

The Defence of Connycatching (prose) 1592

A Dispvtation Betweene a Hee Conny-Catcher, and a Shee Conny-Catcher (prose) 1592

The Repentance of Robert Greene, Maister of Artes (prose) 1592

The Thirde and last Part of Conny-Catching (prose) 1592

The Life and Complete Works in Prose and Verse. 15 vols. (prose and drama) 1964

Bayard Tuckerman (essay date 1882)

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SOURCE: "The Age of Elizabeth," in A History of English Prose Fiction: From Sir Thomas Malory to George Eliot, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1882, pp. 60–101.

[In the following excerpt, Tuckerman provides a brief overview of Greene's life and a few of his major works.]

…The popularity of Euphues excited much imitation, and its influence is strongly marked in the works of Robert Greene. Born in Norfolk in 1560, Greene studied at Cambridge and received the degree of Master of Arts. After wasting his property in Italy and Spain, he returned to London to earn his bread by the pen. As a pamphleteer, as a poet, and especially as a dramatist, Greene achieved a considerable reputation. But his improvident habits and a life of constant debauchery brought his career to a close, amidst poverty and remorse, at the early age of thirty-two. He died in a drunken brawl, leaving in his works the evidence of talents and qualities which the degradation of his life had failed to destroy.

Greene's Arcadia was published in 1587, and bears in its fanciful title of "Camilla's Alarum to Slumber Euphues," the evidence of its inspiration. Even among pastorals the improbability of this story is surpassing. Damocles, king of Arcadia, banished his daughter with her husband and son. Sephestia, the daughter, arrived in a part of Arcadia entirely inhabited by shepherds. There she becomes a shepherdess under the name of Samela, and meets her husband, Maximus, who is already tending sheep in the same neighborhood with the name of Melicertus. Strange to say, Sephestia fails to recognize her husband, and receives his addresses as a favored lover. Soon after, Pleusidippus, Sephestia's son, is stolen by pirates, and adopted by the king of Thessaly, in whose court he grows up. The fame of Sephestia's beauty reaches her father and her son, who, ignorant of the relationship in consequence of Sephestia's change of name, both set out to woo the celebrated shepherdess. The repulsive scene of the same woman being the object at once of the passion of her father and her son is ended by Damocles carrying off Sephestia to his own court, where he proposes to execute Maximus as his successful rival, and Sephestia for her obstinate refusal of his addresses. The Delphian oracle, however, interposes in time by declaring the identity of Sephestia, and the story terminates as usual in weddings and reconciliations.

The conventional shepherd's life is well described in the Arcadia and the pastoral tone is skilfully main tained. The language, however, is confessedly euphuistic, as may be seen by the author's comment on a speech of Samela:

Samela made this reply, because she had heard him so superfine, as if Ephebus had learned him to refine his mother's tongue; wherefore though he had done it of an ink horn desire to be eloquent, and Melicertus thinking Samela had learned with Lucilla in Athens to anatomize wit, and speak none but similes, imagined she smoothed her talk to be thought like Sappho, Phaon's paramour.

The following passage could hardly be distinguished from the writings of Lyly:

I had thought, Menaphon, that he which weareth the bay leaf had been free from lightning, and the eagle's pen a preservative against thunder; that labour had been enemy to love, and the eschewing of idleness an antidote against fancy; but I see by proof, there is no adamant so hard, but the blood of a goat will make soft, no fort so well defenced, but strong battery will entry, nor any heart so pliant to restless labours, but enchantments of love will overcome.

Melicertus addresses Samela, whom he finds feeding her flocks, in the following terms:

Mistress of all eyes that glance but at the excellence of your perfection, sovereign of all such as Venus hath allowed for lovers, Enone's over-match, Arcadia's comet, Beauty's second comfort, all hail! Seeing you sit like Juno when she first watched her white heifer on the Lincen downs, as bright as silver Phoebe mounted on the high top of the ruddy element, I was, by a strange attractive force, drawn, as the adamant draws the iron, or the jet the straw, to visit your sweet self in the shade, and afford you such company as a poor swain may yield without offence; which, if you shall vouch to deign of, I shall be as glad of such accepted service, as Paris was first of his best beloved paramour.

Another of Samela's lovers, despairing of success, "became sick for anger, and spent whole eclogues in anguish."

Greene's story of "Pandosto," or "Dorastus and Fawnia," which attained a great popularity, and went through at least fourteen editions, is well known as the foundation of Shakespeare's "Winter's Tale." Shakespeare has followed Greene in the material points of the story, even so far as to make Bohemia a maritime country. But the genius of the dramatist is manifest in the miraculous and happy ending which he substitutes for the unlawful love and inconsistent suicide of Pandosto in the work of Greene. Shakespeare borrowed from the text, as well as from the plot of the novelist. The lines,

The gods themselves,
Humbling their deities to love, have taken
The shapes of beasts upon them: Jupiter
Became a bull, and bellowed; the green Neptune
A ram, and bleated; and the fire-robed god,
Golden Apollo, a poor humble swain,
As I seem now,—

are evidently a reproduction of the soliloquy of Dorastus:

And yet Dorastus, shame not at thy shepheard's weede: The heavenly Godes have sometime earthly thoughts: Neptune became a ram, Jupiter a bul, Apollo a shepheard: they Gods, and yet in love; and thou a man appointed to love.1

The story of "Philomela," "penned to approve women's chastity," is the best of Greene's tales, and approaches more closely the modern novel than any work of the time. It is related with much less than the usual prolixity, and contains two characters of distinct individuality. The scene is placed in Venice, partly in consequence of the Italian origin of the story, and partly, it would seem, because writers of fiction imagined that the further distant they could represent their incidents to have occurred, the more interest and probability would attach to them. Philippo Medici possessed a wife Philomela, renowned, "not for her beauty, though Italy afforded none so fair—not for her dowry, though she were the only daughter of the Duke of Milan—but for the admirable honours of her mind, which were so many and matchless, that virtue seemed to have planted there the paradise of her perfection." Philippo was so prone to jealousy, that he suspected even this paragon, and worked himself into a belief in her infidelity by such euphuisms as these: "The greener the Alisander leaves be, the more bitter is the sap, and the salamander is the most warm when he lieth furthest from the fire," therefore, "women are most heart-hollow, when they are most lip-holy." Inflamed by this reasoning, he induced a friend, one Lutesio, to attempt his wife's virtue, enjoining him to bring immediate information in case of any evidence of success. Lutesio, after some misgivings, undertook the task, and under the influence of Philomela's beauty, found it a very agreeable one. His most elaborate discourses on love in the abstract were met by Philomela with replies fully as long and fully as lofty, but when he made the conversation personal, and declared his attitude to be that of a lover, he was met with a virtuous indignation which fully bore out the reputation of Philomela. Even this conclusive test did not satisfy the jealous mind of the wretched Philippo. Having hired two slaves to swear in court to his wife's infidelity, he procured her banishment to Palermo. By the efforts of the Duke of Milan, this infamous proceeding was finally exposed, and Philippo, overcome by remorse, set out in search of Philomela. At Palermo, he accused himself, in a fit of despair, of a murder which had been committed in that city. But while the trial was in progress, Philomela, in order to shield her husband, appeared in court and proclaimed herself guilty of the crime. The innocence of both was discovered. Philippo, as he deserved, died immediately in an "ecstacy," and Philomela "returned home to Venice, and there lived the desolate widow of Philippo Medici all her life; which constant chastity made her so famous, that in her life she was honoured as the paragon of virtue, and after her death, solemnly, and with wonderful honour, entombed in St. Mark's Church, and her fame holden canonized until this day in Venice."

The character of Philomela possesses strong traits of feminine virtue and wifely fidelity. Philippo has little distinctiveness except in his extreme susceptibility to jealousy—a fault which was exaggerated by the author to set off the opposite qualities of Philomela. The story has no little merit in regard to the construction and sequence of the narrative, and holds up to admiration a high moral excellence. But its interest is seriously impaired by the same defect which marks all the fiction of the time. Philomela is almost the only tale which makes any pretence to being a description of actual life, or which deals with possible incidents. Yet the language, although it has some elegance, is so affectedly formal, that all sense of reality is destroyed. When Philippo's treachery to his wife is discovered, and he himself is plunged in remorse, it is in such words as these that he speaks of his exposure: "There is nothing so secret but the date of days will reveal; that as oil, though it be moist, quencheth not fire, so time, though ever so long, is no sure covert for sin; but as a spark raked up in cinders will at last being to glow and manifest a flame, so treachery hidden in silence will burst forth and cry for revenge."2


1 The lines quoted from the "Winter's Tale" are in act iv, sc. 3. For Greene's words see "Dorastus and Fawnia," in Hazlitt's "Shakespeare's Library," part i, vol. 4, p. 62. The resemblance between the two passages is pointed out by Dunlop ("History of Fiction," p. 404). Collier in his introduction to "Dorastus and Fawnia" denied this obligation of Shakespeare to Greene. But he was evidently led into this error by taking the following passage, instead of the one quoted in the text, for the foundation of Shakespeare's lines: "The gods above disdaine not to love women beneathe. Phœbus liked Sibilla; Jupiter Io; and why not I, then, Fawnia?"

2 Another of Greene's tales, possessing much the same merits and the same defects as those already mentioned, is "Never too Late."

J. J. Jusserand (essay date 1890)

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SOURCE: "Lyly's Legatees," in The English Novel In The Time of Shakespeare, translated by Elizabeth Lee, T. Fisher Unwin, 1908, pp. 145–216.

[In the essay below—first published in 1890 and reprinted in 1908, Jusserand compares and contrasts Greene's works to those of Lyly and discusses the plots of several of Greene's stories including Pandosto, which was used by Shakespeare in writing The Winter's Tale.]

… Greene's non-dramatic works are the largest contribution left by any Elizabethan writer to the novel literature of the day. They are of four sorts: his novels proper or romantic love stories, which he called his love pamphlets; his patriotic pamphlets; his connycatching writings, in which he depicts actual fact, and tells tales of real life forshadowing in some degree Defoe's manner; lastly, his Repentances, of which some idea has already been given.1

His love pamphlets, which filled the greatest part of his literary career, connect him with the euphuistic cycle, and he is assuredly one of Lyly's legatees. Possessing a much greater fertility of invention than Lyly, he follows as closely as the original bent of his mind allows him, the manner of his master. He is euphuistic in his style, wise in his advice to his readers, and a great admirer of his own country.

His moral propensities do not lie concealed behind pretty descriptions or adventures; they are stamped on the very first page of each of his books and are expressly mentioned in their titles. In this too, like his master Lyly, he may be considered a precursor of Richardson. He writes his "Mamillia" to entreat gentlemen to beware how, "under the perfect substaunce of pure love, [they] are oft inveigled with the shadowe of lewde luste;" his "Myrrour of Modestie" to show "howe the Lorde delivereth the innocent from all imminent perils and plagueth the bloudthirstie hypocrites with deserved punishments." "Euphues his censure to Philautus" teaches "the vertues necessary in every gentleman;" "Pandosto" shows that "although by the meanes of sinister fortune truth may be concealed, yet by Time in spight of fortune, it is most manifestly revealed."2 Quiet, wealthy, comfortable Richardson had no better aim, and had, in fact, a very similar one, when he wrote his "Pamela," as he is careful to state on the title-page, "in order to cultivate the principles of virtue and religion in the minds of the youth of both sexes;" and his "Clarissa," to show "the distresses that may attend the misconduct both of parents and children in relation to marriage." Be it said to the praise of both authors and readers, this moral purpose so prominently stated did not in the least frighten the public of ladies, whose suffrage, the two men, different as they were in most things, were especially courting. Richardson's popularity among them needs not to be recalled, and as for Greene, he was stated at the time of his greater vogue to be nothing less than "the Homer of women."3

Greene's praise of England is as constant as Lyly's; he is careful to show that whatever appearances may be, he is proud to be a citizen of London, not, after all, of Bohemia; if he represents himself shipwrecked near the coast of an island where, like Robinson Crusoe, he is alone able to swim, finding the country pleasant, he describes it as "much like that faire England the flower of Europe."4 Euphues' praise of London is matched by Greene's description of its naval power in his "Royal Exchange": "Our citizens of London (Her Majesties royal fleet excepted) have so many shyppes harboured within the Thames as wyll not onelie match with all the argosies, galleyes, galeons and pataches in Venice, but to encounter by sea with the strongest cittie in the whole world."5 As for foreign women, Greene agrees with Lyly that they all paint their faces, and cannot live without a lover. French women, for example, are "beautifull," it is true, but "they have drugges of Alexandria, minerals of Egypt, waters from Tharsus, paintings from Spaine, and what to doe forsooth? To make them more beautifull then vertuous and more pleasing in the eyes of men then delightful in the sight of God…. Some take no pleasure but in amorous passions, no delight but in madrigals of love, wetting Cupid's wings with rose water, and tricking up his quiver with sweete perfumes."6

But Greene's style marked him most indelibly as a pupil of Lyly. He has taken Euphues' ways of speech with all their peculiarities, and has sometimes crowded his tales with such a quantity of similes, metaphors and antitheses as to beat his master himself on his own ground.7 Here, again, we are in the middle of scorpi ons, crocodiles, dipsas, and what not. Take, for instance, "Philomela the lady Fitzwaters nightingale;"8 as it is written expressly for ladies, and dedicated to one of them, and as, in addition, the characters are of high rank, the novel is nearly one unbroken series of similes: "The greener the alisander leaves be, the more bitter is the sappe," says Philip, the jealous husband, to himself; "the salamander is most warm when it lyeth furthest from the fire;" thus his wife may well be as heart-hollow as she seems lip-holy. He charges his friend Lutesio to tempt her, by way of trial. "Lutesio," the lady replies to the young man's declaration, "now I see, the strongest oake hath his sap and his worms [and] that ravens will breed in the fayrest ash." These observations appear unanswerable to Lutesio, and the husband would share his conviction if he did not reflect that "the onix is inwardly most cold, when it is outwardly most hot." The experiment must be tried again, and the friend returns to the charge: "Madam, I have been stung with the scorpion and cannot be helpt or healed by none but by the scorpion."

"I see now," replies the lady to this compliment, "that hemlocke wheresoever it bee planted, will be pestilent [and] that the serpent with the brightest scales shroudeth the most fatall venome." Is there anything more certain? But that does not prevent the halcyon from hatching when the sea is calm, and the phoenix from spreading her wings when the sunbeams shine on her nest. This is what the husband remarks, and, guided by the onyx, the alexander, &c, after a mock trial, he divorces his wife.

What did the people think of it? They thought "all was not golde that glistered, … that the Agate, bee it never so white without, yet it is full of black strokes within."

During this time, Philomela, the wife who had been driven away, retires to Palermo, where her knowledge of natural history allows her to observe that the more the camomile is trodden on, the faster it grows. Scarcely separated from her, the husband loses his confidence in the onyx and alexander, and sets out in search of her. He does not know her place of retreat, but, happily, among all possible routes, he chooses precisely that leading to Palermo. He finds his wife again, and his joy is so great that he is choked by it, and dies; a just punishment for his confidence in Lyly's botany.9

In the same way as patient Grisell's story had been in the same period transferred to the stage, this new example of feminine virtue, from the pen of the "Homer of women," was, in later years, worked into a drama. At that time Greene had long been dead and could not complain of the new "shake-scene" tortures inflicted upon him by Davenport.10

This story, characteristic as it is of Greene's style when he means to be euphuistic, can scarcely be taken as a fair sample of the improbability he is able to crowd into a single novel. Most of his tales (and in this he greatly differs from Lyly) take place we do not know when, we do not know where, among men we have never anywhere come across. Learned as he was, versed in the Greek, Latin, French and Italian tongues, able to translate passages from the Italian of Ariosto, to dress in English language the charming "Débat de Folie et d'Amour"11 of Louise Labé, to imitate (as he thought) Cicero's style, while describing (as he thought) the great orator's loves,12 his turn of mind was as little critical as can be imagined, and his wide popularity served to spread geographical and historical absurdities, some of which were preserved by Shakespeare himself, for the amusement of a learned posterity. Greene's picture of Ulysses' Penelope is not more Greek than the exquisite painting by Pinturicchio at the National Gallery, where the wise king of Ithaca appears under the guise of a red-hosed Italian youth with flowing hair; while his wife sits at her "web" in a Florentine blue dress. In Greene, Penelope is represented telling stories to while away the time, which, unless we endow her with a prophetical gift, are impossibilities. Her first story begins thus: "Saladyne the Souldan of Ægipt, who by his prowesse had made a generall conquest of the south-east part of ye world tooke to wife Barmenissa, the onely daughter and heire of the great chan." No wonder that such tales could chain the attention and awaken the curiosity of her maids, and keep them quiet till the time when "a messenger came hastily rushing in, who tolde Penelope that Ulisses was arryved that night within the port of Ithaca…. Penelope called for her sonne and that night sent him post to the sea."13

Not less wonderful are the stories of "Arbasto," King of Denmark, or of "Pandosto," King of Bohemia. They may be taken as typical specimens of the sort of romantic novel the Elizabethan public enjoyed, and which was sure to make an author popular. We must remember when reading these tales that they were the fashion, the craze, at a time when "Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Romeo and Juliet" were being played. Chaotic, improbable, and in some parts ridiculous as they appear to us, they would have made their author wealthy if anything could, so much so that, as we have seen, the publishers, according to Nash, considered themselves "blest to pay Greene deare for the very dregs of his wit." He was, if anything, an author that sold. What were his wares?

In "Arbasto" Greene represents himself reaching in his travels the island of Candia. He meets in a cell a solitary old man, and without any ceremony makes bold to ask him for his story. The old man is at first somewhat shocked at this inquisitiveness, and gets very angry; but he grows calmer and complies. He is Arbasto, late King of Denmark, and was once very happy: "I feared not the force of forraigne foes, for I knewe none but were my faithfull friends," says he, in a style that reminds one of the King Herod of miracle plays. Living in such content, he thought it advisable to invade France, where at that time a king was reigning, named Pelorus, about whom chroniclers are silent. Arbasto came straight to Orleans, and after some siege operations, "had so shaken the walles with cannon shot, that they were forced to strengthen them with counter mures."

A three months' truce is agreed to on both sides, and the two sovereigns entertain each other. At the French court, Arbasto meets the two daughters of the king, Myrania and Doralicia, two wonderful creatures, especially the latter, who was "so adorned with more then earthlie perfection as she seemed to be framed by nature to blemishe nature, and that beautie had skipt beyond her skil in framing a peece of such curious workemanship." Arbasto cannot cease gazing at her; he addresses to himself euphuistic speeches several pages long, but they do him no good. It so happens that while his love is set on Doralicia, the other princess falls in love with him. But this again does him no good. He ceases to find anything worth living for; even the possible destruction of France seems to him tasteless. His nobles observe his changed mood, and wonder, and his confidant, Duke Egerio, vainly tries on him the effect of a new series of euphuistic examples and similes. Arbasto continues loving, and Doralicia perseveres in her coldness; they meet once, and argue one against the other with the help of salamanders and scorpions, and empty their whole herbaria over each other's head; but things remain in statu.

King Pelorus, who, for all that, does not lose his head, offers Arbasto an interview in Orleans to sign the peace. Arbasto comes, the gates are shut, he is thrown into prison; his army is cut to pieces, and a great scaffold is erected in a conspicuous place, on which the prisoner is to be publicly executed in ten days' time.

The royal Dane tries to console himself in his prison with what remains of his herbarium and zoology. But better help comes in the shape of the loving princess, Myrania, who is resolved to save him. By her command her maid entices the gaoler to her room, and causes him to tread "upon a false bord" that had apparently been there in all times, ready for this very emergency. The gaoler falls "up to the shoulders;" then he disappears into a hole, where he dies, and his keys are taken from him.

Arbasto is very happy, and promises Myrania to love and marry her; they go "covertly out of the citie, passing through France with many fearefull perils" and reach Denmark. Pelorus and Doralicia are extremely angry; she even takes to "blaspheming … but as words breake no bones, so we cared the lesse for her scolding."

But Arbasto learns to his cost that no man when truly in love can cease to love as he pleases. Before keeping his word to Myrania he wants once more to appeal to her fair sister. But the fair sister continues in her blaspheming mood, and sends a very sharp and contemptuous answer.

Both letters fall into the hands of Myrania, who is so struck by this piece of treachery that she dies of her sorrow; hearing which Pelorus rather unexpectedly dies of his sorrow for her death. Doralicia then is queen, and at last discovers that in the innermost part of her heart there is love for Arbasto. She writes accordingly, but the Dane this time returns a contemptuous answer. Receiving which, the poor French queen dies of her sorrow. And thereupon, for no apparent reason, except to add yet more sorrow to the conclusion of this tragical tale, the confidant of the Danish king turns traitor, usurps his crown, and Arbasto goes to Candia, where Greene had the good fortune to hear from his own lips this wondrous and authentic tale. "Merry and tragical! tedious and brief!" as Duke Theseus would think.

However complete the success awarded to Arbasto's adventures, it was nothing compared with the popularity of "Pandosto." If this was not the best it was the most famous of Greene's tales. The plot is well known, for Shakespeare, unmoved by the dying maledictions of his late companion, drew from it the materials of his "Winter's Tale" (1611?). He kept many of the improbabilities of Greene, rejected a few, and added some of his own. But the great change he made was to give life to the heroes, and as they had been shaped by Greene they sorely needed it. Rarely did a more unlikely and a cruder tale come from the pen of our novelist.

The events of the story take place among kings and shepherds: "In the countrey of Bohemia there raygned a king called Pandosto." This is the usual beginning of novels of the time; hundreds of them commence in this manner;14 the very first lines transport the reader to an unknown country, and place him before an unknown king, and if, after reading only those few words, he is surprised to find himself entangled in extraordinary, inexplicable adventures, he must be of a very naïve disposition. But in Elizabethan times adventures were liked for their own sake; probability was only a very secondary motive of enjoyment. "Pandosto," in any case, deserves our attention, for, if it commenced like many other novels of the time, it led, as we have said, to "Winter's Tale," to which it is worth while to go. When the two are read together and compared, it seems as if Shakespeare had chosen on purpose one of the worst of Greene's tales, to show by way of an answer to the accusations of the dead writer, that he was able to form something out of nothing. Greene had, in truth, only modelled the clay; Shakespeare used it, adding the soul.

Greene simply states his facts and takes little trouble about explaining them; the reader must rest satisfied with the author's bare word. There is no attempt at the study of passions; his heroes change their minds all of a sudden, with the stiff, sharp, improbable action of puppets in a show. Pandosto (Leontes) loves and hates, and becomes jealous, and repents always in the same brusque wire-and-wood manner; the warmth of his passions, so great and terrible in Shakespeare, is here simply absent; when he begins to suspect his friend Egistus (Polixenes) of feeling an unlawful love for Bellaria (Hermione), we are barely informed that the Bohemian king "concluded at last to poyson him." When Dorastus and Fawnia (Florizel and Perdita) seek refuge in Pandosto's kingdom, Pandosto at once falls in love with his own daughter, Fawnia, whom he does not know; then on the receipt of a letter from Egistus, "having his former love turned to a disdainful hate," he wishes to have her killed. Very differently is the couple received by Shakespeare's Leontes:

"Were I but twenty-one,
Your father's image is so hit in you,
His very air, that I should call you brother,
As I did him; and speak of something wildly
By us performed before. Most dearly welcome!
And you, fair princess, goddess!—O, alas,
I lost a couple, that 'twixt heaven and earth
Might thus have stood, begetting wonder as
You gracious couple do."

In Greene the exquisite figure of Perdita appears as a very rough sketch under the name of Fawnia. She loves her Dorastus not merely because he is lovable, but because "hoping in time to be advaunced from the daughter of a poore farmer to be the wife of a riche king." Dorastus comes to her disguised as a shepherd, and as she does not recognize him "she began halfe to forget Dorastus and to favor this prety shepheard whom she thought shee might both love and obtaine." It would be cruel to make further comparisons, but it is necessary to say thus much in order to show what a hold adventures, however crude, surprises, unexpected meetings and recognitions, had upon Elizabethan minds. They were quite sufficient to insure success; to add life and poetry was very well, but by no means necessary. Shakespeare did so because he could not do otherwise; and he did it thoroughly, as was his wont, endowing with his life-giving faculty the most insignificant personage he found embryo-like in Greene. The least of them has, in Shakespeare, his own moods, his sensitiveness, a mind and a heart that is his and his alone; even young Mamillius, the child who lives only the length of one scene, is not any child, but tells his tale, his sad tale, with a grace that is all his own.

Living people, too, are his Paulina, his Antigonus, his Camillo, his Autolycus, all of them additions of his own creation. Living also, his shepherds, for whom he received only insignificant hints from Greene. In "Pandosto" we hear of "a meeting of all the farmers daughters in Sycilia," without anything more, and from this Shakespeare drew the idea of his sheep-shearing feast, where he delights in contrasting with the rough ways of his peasants the inborn elegance of Perdita: "O Proserpina," says she, in her delicious mythological prattle:

"For the flowers now, that, frighted, thou lett'st fall
From Dis's wagon! daffodils,
That come before the swallow dares …"

And Florizel, wondering at her with his young admiring eyes, answers in the same strain:

"When you speak, sweet,
I'd have you do it ever; when you sing,
I'd have you buy and sell so; so give alms;
Pray so; and, for the ordering your affairs,
To sing them too: when you do dance, I wish you
A wave o' the sea, that you might ever do
Nothing but that."

Very different is the old shepherd's tone; though kindly, it is quite conformable to his estate and situation:

"Fie, daughter! when my old wife lived, upon
This day she was both pantler, butler, cook,
Both dame and servant; welcomed all, served all,
Would sing her song, and dance her turn; now here,
At upper end o' the table, now i the middle;
On his shoulder and his; her face o' fire
With labour, and the thing she took to quench it,
She would to each one sip. You are retired,
As if you were a feasted one, and not
The hostess of the meeting."

Never has the language of country people been better transferred to literature; their manners, tone, and language in Shakespeare have remained true to nature even to the present day, so much so that it is difficult, while writing, not to think of harvest and vintage scenes, which every year brings round again in our French valleys, and the sort of kindly talk very similar to the old shepherd's that many of us remember, as well as I do, to have heard in the country, from peasant associates in early days. This unsurpassed fidelity to nature is the more remarkable as it dates from the Arcadian times of English literature, days that were to last long, even down to the time of Pope and of Thomson himself, to stop at Burns, when at last a deeper, if not truer, note was to be struck.

But with regard to mere facts, Shakespeare was in no way more careful than Greene, and he seems to have known, and it was in fact visible enough, the greediness of his public to be such that, ostrich like, they would swallow anything. He, therefore, changed very little. In Greene, ships "sail into Bohemia," a feat that cannot be repeated to-day; the Queen is tried by a jury "panelled" for that purpose; the nobles go "to the isle of Delphos, there to enquire of the oracle of Apollo whether she had committed adultery." Very much the same things happen in Shakespeare. The survival of Hermione is his own invention; in Greene she dies for good at the beginning of the novel, when she hears of the death of her son. With the same aptitude to die for no other cause than to improve a story, Pandosto dies also in Greene's tale: he remembered his faults and "fell in a melancholie fit, and to close up the comédie with a tragicall stratagme he slewe himselfe." Merry and tragical! But otherwise Dorastus and Fawnia would have had to wait before becoming king and queen, and such a waiting was against the taste of the time and the rules of novel writing.

Such as it is, Greene's tale had an extraordinary success. While Shakespeare's drama was not printed, either in authentic or pirated shape, before the appearance of the 1623 folio, the prose story had a number of editions throughout the seventeenth century and even, under one shape or another, throughout the eighteenth. It was printed as a chap-book during this last period, and in this costume began a new life. It was turned into verse in 1672, under the title, "Fortune's tennis ball: or the most excellent history of Dorastus and Fawnia, rendred into delightful english verse";15 it begins with this "delightful" invocation:

"Inspire me gentle love and jealouise,
Give me thy passion and thy extasie,

While to a pleasant ayr I strik the strings
Singing the fates of lovers and of kings."

But the highest and most extraordinary compliment to Greene's performance was its translation into French, not only once, as has been said, but twice. The first time was at a moment when the English language and literature were practically unknown and as good as non-extant to French readers. It appeared in 1615, and was dedicated to "très haute and très illustre princesse, Madame Christine Sœur du Roy."16 The second translation, that has never yet been noticed, was made at a time when France had a novel literature of its own well worth reading, and when Boileau had utterly routed and discomfited the writers of romantic and improbable tales. Nevertheless, it was thought that a public would be found in Paris for Greene's novel, and it was printed accordingly in French in 1722, this time adorned with engravings.17 They show "Doraste" dressed as a marquis of Louis XV.'s time; while "Pandolphe" wears a flowing wig under his cocked hat, and sits on a throne in rococo style. A copy of the book was purchased for the royal library, and is still to be seen at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, with the crown and cipher of his Most Christian Majesty on the cover.

Greene's story of "Menaphon"18 is hardly more probable, but it takes place in the country of Arcadia, a fact that predisposes us to treat with indulgence any lack of reality; moreover, it contains touches of true poetry, and is perhaps, all considered, the best of Greene's romantic novels. In common with most of this author's tales it abounds in monologues and dialogues; heroes think aloud and let us into their secret thoughts, a device adapted from the classic drama and very common in all the English novels of the period. There is also, according to Greene's custom, a great abundance of songs and verses, the best piece being the lullaby quoted above. Propriety and the truth of characters are not much better observed here than in Greene's other stories. Everybody in this romance speaks with infinite grace and politeness. The shepherd Menaphon, introducing himself to the Princess Sephestia and her child, who have been cast ashore through a shipwreck, says to them: "Strangers, your degree I know not, therefore pardon if I give lesse title than your estates merit." And, falling desperately in love with the beautiful young woman, who gives as her name Samela of the island of Cyprus, he describes to her with ardour and not without grace the pastoral life that he would like to lead with her: "I tell thee, faire nymph, these plaines that thou seest stretching southward, are pastures belonging to Menaphon: ther growes the cintfoyle, and the hyacinth, the cowsloppe, the primrose and the violet, which my flockes shall spare for flowers to make thee garlands, the milke of my ewes shall be meate for thy pretie wanton, the wool of the fat weathers that seemes as fine as the fleece that Jason fet from Colchos, shall serve to make Samela webbes withall; the mountaine tops shall be thy mornings walke, and the shadie valleies thy evenings arbour: as much as Menaphon owes shall be at Samelas command if she like to live with Menaphon."

The romance goes on its way, strewn with songs whose refrains of varied and tuneful metres afford charming melody. In the end two knights, Melicertus and Pleusidippus, both enamoured of Sephestia, fight a duel; they are separated. The king of the country interferes, and comprehending nothing of these intricate love affairs, he is on the point of cutting off all their heads, when it is discovered that Melicertus is the long lost husband of Sephestia; the other duellist is the child of the shipwrecked woman, who, in the course of the tale, has been stolen from her on the shore and has grown up in hiding. They embrace one another; and, as for Menaphon, whose sweetheart finds herself thus provided with a sufficiently fond husband and son, he returns to his old love, Pesana, who had had patience to wait for him, doubtless without growing old: for, in these romances, people do not grow old. Pleusidippus has become a man, without the least change in his mother's face; she has remained as beautiful as in the first page of the book, and is, according to appearances, still "sweet-and-twenty."

In his tales of this sort Greene was mostly describing delights with which he was not personally acquainted, lands of which he had no practical knowledge, princely adventures for which no historian could vouch. He was perfectly free and unimpeded. The taste of the public was similar to his; no Boileau was there to stop him, and he wrote accordingly, following his fancy, not caring in the least for nature and possibility, letting his pen go as fast as it would, and turning out "in a night and a day" a tale like his "Menaphon." But if he did not choose to paint from life and to describe realities in his "love pamphlets," he did so on purpose, not because he was unable to do it. In several of his other writings his subject was such that the work would have been nothing if not true; and there we find a clear view of human passions, foibles and peculiarities, which show that if the taste of the romance readers of the time had been such as to encourage him in this line, he would have proved no mean realistic novelist. His Repentances abound in portraits and scenes, showing the keen eye he had for realities. His conny-catching literature is full of exact descriptions of the sordid life of the sharpers and low courtesans of Elizabethan London. In more than one of these pamphlets he foreshadows, though I need not say with a much lesser genius, the "Moll Flanders" and the "Colonel Jack" of a later period. The resemblance is especially great in the "Life and death of Ned Browne,"19 in which the hero, according to the custom in picaresque novels, of which more hereafter, himself tells his own story in the first person. Greene is particularly bitter in his denunciations of the professional courtesans of London, about whom he knew probably more than any of his contemporaries. But with all the hatred he felt towards them so long as he had pen in hand, he cannot help repeating that, however objectionable they are in many ways, they have for themselves this advantage, that they are extremely beautiful, so that if their morals are exactly the same as in other countries they excel at least in something which in itself is not contemptible. They are "a kinde of women bearing the faces of Angels, but the hearts of devils, able to intrap the elect if it were possible."20 Greene had no pretension to be one of the elect, and was only too often "intraped"; but for all his miseries his words show a scarcely less intense admiration for his diabolical angels than Des Grieux's famous rapturous phrase when he meets Manon on her way to the ship that is to convey her to America: "Son linge était sale et dérangé; ses mains délicates exposées à l'injure de l'air; enfin tout ce composé charmant, cette figure capable de ramener l'univers à l'idolatrie, paraissait dans un désordre et un abattement inexprimables." "Again," writes Greene: "let me say this much, that our curtizans … are far superiour in artificiall allurement to them of all the world, for, although they have not the painting of Italie, nor the charms of France, nor the jewelles of Spaine, yet they have in their eyes adamants that wil drawe youth as the jet the strawe…. Their lookes … containe modesty, mirth, chastity, wantonness and what not."21

Besides the personal reminiscences with which he made up his repentance tales and stories, Greene as an observer of human nature is seen at his best in his curious, and at the time famous, dialogue "between velvet breeches and cloth breeches."22 It is in fact a disputation between old England and new England; the England that built the strong houses praised by Harrison, and the England that adorned itself with the Burghley House paper work; traditional England and italianate England. Velvet breeches is "richly daubde with gold, and poudred with pearle," and is "sprung from the auncient Romans, borne in Italy, the mistresse of the worlde for chivalry." Cloth breeches is of English manufacture and descent, and deplores the vices that have crept into "this glorious Hand" in the wake of Italian fashions. Both plead before Greene, each giving very graphic accounts of the behaviour of the other. Here, for example, is a scene, assuredly from the life, at a barber's shop:

Velvet breeches he sittes downe in the chaire wrapt in fine cloathes … then comes [the barber] out with his fustian eloquence, and making a low conge, saith:

"Sir, will you have your wor[ship's] haire cut after the Italian maner, shorte and round, and then frounst with the curling yrons, to make it looke like a halfe moone in a miste? or like a Spanyard, long at the eares and curled like the two endes of an old cast periwig? or will you be Frenchified, with a love locke downe to your shoulders, wherein you may weare your mistresse favour? The English cut is base and gentlemen scorne it, novelty is daintye; speake the woord sir, and my sissars are ready to execute your worships wil."

His head being once drest, which requires in combing and rubbing some two howers, hee comes to the bason: then being curiously washt with no woorse then a camphire bal, he descends as low as his berd, and asketh whether he please to be shaven or no, whether he will have his peak cut short and sharpe, amiable like an inamorato, or broad pendant like a spade, to be terrible like a warrior and a Soldado … if it be his pleasure to have his appendices primed or his mustachios fostered to turn about his eares like ye branches of a vine….

The question pending between cloth and velvet is submitted to a jury; men of the various professions are called and accepted, or rejected, according to their merit; each is described, often in a very lively manner. Here is, for example, the portrait of a poet or rather of the poet of the Elizabethan period; for the specimen here represented stands as a type for all his class; and it is worth notice, for if Shakespeare himself was different, many of his associates at the "Mermaid," we may be sure, well answered the description. "I espied far off a certain kind of an overworne gentleman, attired in velvet and satin; but it was somewhat dropped and greasie, and bootes on his legges, whose soles wexed thin and seemed to complaine of their maister, which treading thrift under his feet, had brought them unto that consumption. He walked not as other men in the common beaten way, but came compassing circumcirca, as if we had beene divells and he would draw a circle about us, and at every third step he looked back as if he were afraid of a baily or a sarjant." Cloth Breeches, who seems to be describing here Greene himself, is not too severe in his appreciation of the character of the poor troubled fellow: "If he have forty pound in his purse together, he puts it not to usury, neither buies land nor merchandise with it, but a moneths commodity of wenches and capons. Ten pound a supper, why tis nothing if his plough goes and his ink home be cleere … But to speak plainely I think him an honest man if he would but live within his compasse, and generally no mans foe but his own. Therefore I hold him a man fit to be of my jury."

Judgment is passed in favour of cloth England against velvet England; and in this ultra-conservative sentence the views of the Bohemian novelist are summed up in this premature essay on the "philosophy of clothes."…


1 The "Life and Complete Works" of Greene have been published by Dr. Grosart, London, 1881, 15 vols. 4to. His principal non-dramatic writings may be classified as follows:

1. Romantic novels, or "love pamphlets": "Mamillia," 1583; "The second part," 1583; "Myrrour of Modestie," 1584; "Card of fancie," 1584 (?); "Arbasto," 1584 (?); "Planetomachia," 1585; "Morando, the Tritameron of love," 1586 (?); "Second part," 1587; "Debate betweene follie and love," 1587; "Penelopes web," 1587; "Euphues his censure to Philautus," 1587; "Perimedes," 1588; "Pandosto" (alias "Dorastus and Fawnia"), 1588; "Alcida," 1588 (?); "Menaphon," 1589; "Ciceronis amor," 1589; "Orpharion," 1590 (?); "Philomela," 1592.

2. Civic and patriotic pamphlets: "Spanish Masquerado," 1589; "Royal Exchange," 1590; "Quip for an upstart courtier," 1592.

3. Conny-catching pamphlets: "A notable discovery of coosnage," 1591; "Second part of Conny-caiching," 1591; "Third and last part," 1592; "Disputation betweene a Hee conny-catcher and a Shee connycatcher," 1592 (attributed to Greene); "The Blacke bookes messenger" (i.e., "Life of Ned Browne"), 1592.

4. Repentances: "Greenes mourning garment," 1590 (?); "Greenes never too late to mend," 1590; "Francescos fortune or the second part of Greenes never too late," 1590 (these two last belong also to Group I); "Farewell to follie," 1591 (entered 1587); "Greenes Groats-worth of wit," 1592; "The Repentance of Robert Greene," 1592.

2 The same virtuous tone and purpose appear invariably in the dedications of his books to his patrons or friends. To all of them he wishes "increase of worship and vertue," and he commends them all "to the tuition of the Almightie."

3 Thomas Nash, "The Anatomie of Absurditie," London, 1590, 4to, written in 1588. There seems to be no doubt that Nash refers to Greene in the passage: "I but here the Homer of women hath forestalled an objection," &c., sig. A ii.

4 "Alcida," "Works," vol. ix. p. 17.

5 "The Royal Exchange, contayning sundry aphorismes of phylosophie … fyrst written in Italian," 1590, "Works," vol. vii. p. 224

6 "Greenes never too late," 1590, "Works," vol. viii. p. 25.

7 Greene and Lyly are placed on a par by J. Eliote, a friend of the former; in the sonnet, in Stratford-at-Bow French, he wrote in commendation of Greene's "Perimedes":

Greene et Lylli tous deux raffineurs de l'Anglois.

See also the commendatory verses by H. Upchear, prefacing "Menaphon":

Of all the flowers a Lillie one I lov'd.

8 1592, "Works," vol. xi.

9 Some faint resemblance has been pointed out by Dunlop between this story and the tale of Tito and Gisippo in the "Decameron," giornata x. novella 8.

10 "The City Nightcap, or crede quod habes et habes, a tragicomedy," London, 1661, 4to, licensed 1624, reprinted in Dodsley's "Old plays."

11 "The debate betweene Follie and Love, translated out of French," 1587, "Works," vol. iv.

12 "Ciceronis amor Tulies love … a work full of pleasure, as following Ciceroes vaine," 1589, "Works," vol. vii. This work is noteworthy as being an almost if not quite unique example of an attempt in Elizabethan times to write a pseudo-historical novel in the style of the period referred to. Greene set to work expressly with such a purpose, and he states it in the title of the book and in its preface: "Gentlemen, I have written of Tullies love, a worke attempted to win your favours, but to discover mine owne ignorance in that coveting to counterfeit Tullies phrase, I have lost myself in unproper words." In this tale Cicero is represented standing at the tribune and haranguing the senate: "Conscript fathers and grave senators of Rome," &c.

13 "Penelopes web," 1587, "Works," vol. iv. p. 233.

14 "There dwelled in Bononia a certaine Knight called Signior Bonfadio" ("Morando"). "There dwelled in the citie of Metelyne a certain Duke called Clerophantes" ("Greenes carde of fancie"). "There dwelled … in the citie of Memphis a poore man called Perymedes" ("Perimedes"), &c.

15 London, 1672.

16 "Histoire tragique de Pandosto roy de Bohème et de Bellaria sa femme. Ensemble les amours de Dorastus et de Faunia; où sont comprises les adventures de Pandosto roy de Bohème, enrichies de feintes moralités, allégories, et telles autres diversités convenables au sujet. Le tout traduit premièrement en Anglois de la langue Bohème et de nouveau mis en françois par L. Regnault," Paris, 1615, 12mo. See my "Shakespeare in France," pp. 39, 70.

17 "Histoire tragique de Pandolphe roy de Bohème et de Cellaria sa femme, ensemble les amours de Doraste et de Faunia; enrichie de figures en taille douce," Paris, 1722, 12mo.

18 "Menaphon. Camillas alarum to slumbering Euphues, in his melancholie cell at Silexedra," 1589. "Works," vol. vi.

19 "The blacke bookes messenger, laying open the life and death of Ned Browne one of the most notable of cutpurses … in England. Heerein hee telleth verie pleasantly in his owne person such strange prancks … as the like was yet never heard of," 1592, "Works," vol. xi.

20 "Groats-worth of wit," "Works," vol. xii. p. 140.

21 "Greenes never too late," "Works," vol. viii. p. 67.

22 "A quip for an upstart courtier, or a quaint dispute between velvet breeches and cloth breeches," London, 1592; "Works," vol. xi. In the year of its publication it went through three editions and had several afterwards. It was translated into Dutch: "Een seer vermakelick Proces tusschen Fluweele-Broeck ende LakenBroek," Leyden, 1601, 4to. Greene had as his model in writing this book F. T.'s "Debate between pride and lowliness," and he drew much from it, though not so much by far as he has been accused of by Mr. Collier. "The Debate," &c, Shakespeare Society, 1841, preface. (F. T. is not Francis Thynne)….

Frank Wadleigh Chandler (essay date 1907)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6610

SOURCE: "Conny-Catching Pamphlets," in The Literature of Roguery, 1907. Reprint by Burt Franklin Reprints, 1958, pp. 93–110.

[In the following excerpt, Chandler examines Greene's "conny-catching" tales of the underworld and their influence on his fellow dramatists.]

Conny-Catching Pamphlets

… Greene the Bohemian is one of the few Englishmen of standing in letters who furthered the development of the romance of roguery prior to the eighteenth century. Yet until within two years of his death he had won fame in fiction only as a love-romancer in the tradition of Lyly. From such romantic stories as "Mamillia," "Arbasto," "Euphues, his Censure to Philautus," and the delicate "Pandosto,"—source of Shakespeare's "Winter's Tale,"—Greene turned to realistic conny-catching pamphlets and repentances. The change came in 1590, when he began to show signs of contrition for the wild life he had led; and this frame of mind continuing until his death in September, 1592, he filled the interval by composing a numerous series of picaresque writings. These were often brief and careless, but the knowledge of low-life they conveyed was a fund upon which pamphleteers, dramatists, and story-tellers were for long to draw. Their moral purpose is unquestionable, although Greene took delight in portraying the underworld he had come to know so well. His earnestness, increasing toward the end, culminated in the appalling "Repentance of Robert Greene, Maister of Artes" (1592), which has been thought a forgery or the work of Luke Hutton, but is certainly genuine, and explains and vouches for many facts detailed in Greene's other rogue writings.

The first of the repentant tracts was the "Mourning Garment" (1590), in which Greene speaks of himself as resembling Nineveh suddenly awakened to consciousness of sin by Jonah. The tract pictures the younger son of a rabbi going forth to see the world, and, despite the warnings of shepherds, despoiled by three women, companions in beauty and vice. He is pitied by the shepherds, and finally returns, like the Prodigal Son, to be better welcomed by the rabbi than he could have hoped. The scene on the banks of the Euphrates strangely mixes the pastoral with the picaresque.

Greene's "Neuer too late" (1590) comes closer to the literature of roguery. Francisco, an Italian adventurer, relates his wanderings, his marriage, his desertion of his wife for a courtesan who robbed him, his life with actors and as a dramatic poet, and his reconciliation with his wife. Except for this last incident, most of the account was autobiographic, and it fairly parallels the later "Groatsworth of Wit." The "Farewell to Follie" (1591), whose title has been construed to mean a farewell to love tales, is patterned on Italian novelle, stories being told by a party of disputants to illustrate passions and vices; but as the moral obtrudes in all, the title seems as likely to indicate a valedictory to Greene's old way of life.1

The "Groatsworth of Wit, bought with a Million of Repentance" (1592), was edited by Chettle, and enjoyed several reprintings. Its interest is lessened by the lack of humor, and a tendency to verge upon villainy.

A usurer has two sons, Lucanio and Roberto. To the first he leaves all his property, to the second only a groat, and instructions to buy with it wit. The incensed Roberto secures the aid of Lamilia, a cunning courtesan, to fleece his brother; but, disagreeing with Roberto as to her share of the profits, she reveals the plot to Lucanio, and the discomfited rogue is turned out of doors. He frequents ill company, becomes apt for every rascality, and learns the current tricks at cards and dice.—"the legerdemaine of nips, foysters, conni-catchers, crosbyters, lifts, high lawyers, and all the rabble of that uncleane generation of vipers." His brother in the interval has met a bad end, and Roberto now seems about to follow suit, when he comes upon his one groat and cries out, "O now it is too late, too late to buy witte with thee." Ill unto death, he determines to sell to careless youth what he himself forgot to buy. At this point Greene emerges in his own person, speaking of Roberto's life as in most parts agreeing with his own, urging Marlowe to turn from his atheism, and Nash, that young Juvenal and sweet boy, to "get not many enemies by bitter words." Then after the classic reference to Shakespeare with his "Tygers heart wrapt in a Players hide," and "in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrie," Greene concludes with a salvo of proverbs and the fable of the grasshopper and the ant.

In the meantime the first of Greene's conny-catching pamphlets proper had appeared, published as "A Notable Discouery of Coosnage," in 1591, with a second edition the subsequent year. Conny, cony, conie, or coney was the cant term applied to the silly victim of London rogues. Greene, if he had not assisted in the catching of connies, must have witnessed the sport a hundred times, and in his early days he may himself have suffered from conny-catchers. Now he undertook to describe the wiles employed against the innocent, that forewarned might make forearmed.

He begins by explaining the forerunner of the modern confidence game, dignified under the name of Barnard's Law. Five are required to put it into execution, including the victim, who is found by the Taker, and then met by the Verser. The Taker pretends to know the rustic, and, learning his name, tells it to the Verser, who calls him by it and invites him to an inn. The Barnard is the chief card player, who, pretending to be drunk, leads the victim into the game. The Rutter is a blusterer who fights with the others, so that when the booty is won all can get away.

Greene further describes the familiar trick of crosbiting. Here a gallant is lured to a safe place, and his innamorata's pretended husband enters to demand financial reparation. A vocabulary of "words of art vsed in effecting these base villanies" and the terms descriptive of seven laws or cheats are added, together with the so-called "cheating law." Then follows "A Pleasant Discovery Of the coosenage of Colliars," devoted to exposing the London colliers, who go out of town early in the mornings to buy sacks of coal from country members of the fraternity, and return to empty these into short-weight sacks of their own with choice coals on top.

The reception of this tract was favorable, and Greene in the "Second part of Conny-catching" (1591) is proud of his achievement. The rogues have vowed to cut off his right hand, but he laughs at them. "I liue still, and I liue to display their villanies." When a merchant in the author's room picks up the "Discouery of Coosnage," we hear that "he smiled at it for the strangenesse of the title, … fetcht a great sigh and sayd: 'Sir, if I had seene this booke but two dayes since, it had saued me nine pound in my purse.'" For his style in the former pamphlet Greene has suffered rebuke, so now he is at pains to explain that "fine figuratiue conueiance" would have been amiss, since he must write basely of a base subject. First is noticed the Prigging Law, or horse-stealing, the Prigger being the thief, the Prancer the horse, and the Marter the seller of the animal; and the description of this form of the art is illustrated, as with most other Laws, by a story. Vincent's Law pertains to bowls; the Lifting Law to thievery by sleight of hand; the Black Art is that of the picklock, and the Curbing Law is Harman's old trick of the angler.

The stories are frequently amusing. Thus a miller in Newgate Market is robbed by a clever device. Two rogues pretend a quarrel; one flings flour over the other and runs away; he who remains begs the laughing miller to brush the flour from him, and as the miller complies cuts his victim's purse. Another rogue in Paul's feigns a swoon, and, being helped by a countryman, signals confederates to pick the charitable fellow's pockets. Still another buys an odd knife he has ordered of a cutler, and when the cutler begs to know its use, the nip slits the other's pocket as he explains it. A tinker suspected of being a picklock is paid to deliver a message to a jailer, and finds himself clapped into jail, the message having been his mittimus.

In the "Thirde and last Part of Conny-catching" (1592), a distinct advance was made toward pure fiction, and the beggar-book features dropped away. Greene relates that once at dinner the conversation turned on conny-catchers and the two books that had appeared about them, whereupon an ex-magistrate volunteered to add to those works several fresh examples. The result is a collection of ten excellent stories. Some are slight, as that describing the ballad singers who gather a crowd, and then by warning the audience of pickpockets enable confederates to perceive where the purses are kept as the victims feel for them; or that in which a rogue, inviting young men to drink, pretends his wine needs rose water and sugar and steps out as if to get it, so running off with the tankard and leaving them the bill.2 Others are told at length, and had they possessed more humor might have compared favorably with the exploits of any Spanish picaro.

In one story a serving-maid discovers a cousin, who, on the strength of his pretended relationship, gains admittance to her master's house and robs it. In another a rogue secures satin and lace from a tailor by trickery, getting himself measured for a suit, and picking the tailor's pocket of a purse and a signet ring during the operation. The ring he sends to the apprentices as a token from the tailor that the silk and lace be delivered to him, and the booty he disposes of to a broker. The latter will pay but little for it, so to be revenged the rogue visits the tailor, assures him that for five pounds he can tell him by magic where his silk and lace have gone, and, receiving that sum, informs on the broker. "Thus one craftie knaue beguiled another; let each take heede of dealing with any such kinde of people."

Perhaps the best tales are the second and the eighth, the scene of both being laid in Paul's Church, which for Elizabethan rogues was "a vsuall place of their assembly, both to determine on their driftes, as also to speede of manie a bootie." In the former tale the "fair purple velvet purse" of a lawyer is picked by a lady who pretends to consult him on business, while her accomplice comes behind and blindfolds him, bidding him guess who it is, and then, as if having made a mistake, bows off. In the latter a rogue warns a gentleman in Paul's against wearing his gold chain so openly. The gentleman ties his chain in a kerchief and hides it in his sleeve. Then the rogue, having dropped a key, stoops to pick it up, and is set upon by accomplices. The gentleman takes his part, is bowled over in the mêlée, and his purse, as well as his chain, disappears with the quarrelers, who make off as if to settle their dispute by a duel.

Obviously in these pamphlets Greene was progressing from an account of rogues' tricks to the more interesting business of using rogues as anti-heroes in fiction. The first pamphlet contains direct information merely; the second amplifies such information with anecdotes; while the third consists wholly of stories. Greene's two other pamphlets of 1592 were even more frankly fictional.

"A Dispvtation Betweene a Hee Conny-catcher and a Shee Conny-catcher" showed "Laurence a Foist and faire Nan a Traffique" disputing on the comparative merits of their sexes and professions. Both tell tales in support of their claims, and Laurence at last confesses himself worsted by Nan and all women. "You are Crocodiles when you weepe, Basilisks when you smile, Serpents when you deuise, and diuels chiefest broakers to bring the world to distruction. And so Nan lets sit downe to our meate and be merry."

Some of the tales are Spanish in flavor, as that describing a gallant, roused at night by a false cry of police, who hides in a closet only to be robbed of his clothes and forced to give up his last ring as pledge for a blanket to slink home in.3 Nan herself is an adept at the crosbiting trick, for, when she has lured a foolish gentleman into her toils, up will come her pretended husband, who "with a few terrible oathes and countenance set, as if he were the proudest Souldado that euer bare armes against Don Iohn of Austria, will face him quite out of his money." The disputation is followed by a narrative in the first person describing "The conuersion of an English Courtizan," strongly moralized, and no mean prototype of the story of Miss Williams in "Roderick Random." The pamphlet concludes with an anecdote of slight merit, entitled "A merry Tale taken not far from Fetter Lane end, of a new found Conny-catcher, that was conny-catcht himselfe." Greene's method of advertising his own wares is revealed when Laurence refrains from describing the laws of rogues "because R. G. hath so amply pend them downe in the first part of Conny-catching, that though I be one of the facultie, yet I can not discouer more than hee hath layde open."

Finally, the tireless Greene issued "The Blacke Bookes Messenger, laying open the Life and Death of Ned Browne," and achieved what of all his writings most nearly approaches picaresque fiction. Here he promises in the preface that a "Conny-catchers Repentance" and his "Blacke Booke" will constitute a compendious revelation of rogues' iniquity.4 He gives a canting vocabulary devised by Ned Browne and his associates, to be later adopted along with much else pilfered from Greene by Dekker in the "Belman of London."

Ned Browne is supposed to tell his story before execution at Arx in France, and it is meant to be merry as well as moral, for the world is bidden to call him base knave after his death, and forget him if his rogueries can be heard without laughing. His parents were honest, but he was early given to filching. At eighteen, purse-cutting, horse-stealing, lifting, and lock-picking were toys to him. He particularly practiced bullying. Once he had a pretended constable threaten a maltster, and so secure his signet ring as bail. This ring was then taken to a friend of the maltster's as a token accompanying a request for the loan of ten pounds, which, with the ring itself, was naturally never returned. Ned, believing that wiving and hanging come by destiny, married a woman as bad as himself, and then fell in love with another rogue's wife, and effected an exchange for five pounds.

Ned had many disguises, and even used an artificial tail for his horse. Once he fooled a priest who was riding with a well-filled cap-case on his saddle's pommel. For the priest exchanged horses with Ned and gave him twenty nobles to boot, but at an inn Ned tied a hair about his former nag's fetlock over a vein, which presently made him limp. The priest complained, and Ned offered to try him, so the priest got down and Ned got up, first cutting the hair on the sly. Then away he sped with the priest's new purchase, his saddle, his cap-case, and the twenty nobles.5

"I liued wantonly," he says, "and therefore let me end merrily, and tel you two or three of my mad pranks and so bid you farewell." Seeing a fine lady in Smithfield, he went up to her and, kissing her effusively, cut her purse, and then pretending to have been in error, departed begging pardon. By dropping a key and stooping to pick it up he would suddenly halt his victim when a crowd was entering the doorway of Paul's, thus being enabled to pick the jostled conny's pocket unobserved. As for Ned's wife, she would arrange with accomplices armed with hooks to snatch gentlemen's garments through the window as they slept, although sometimes these anglers got more than they bargained for.6

Having done villainies in England, Ned passed over into the Low Countries to gain credit as a soldier, and it was then that in robbing a church he was apprehended and, because the people had no gallows, condemned to be hanged at a window. Having given this breezy confession of his achievements, beginning with bold defiance and ending with abject repentance, "he himselfe sprung out at the window and died." Greene declares that wolves dug him up after he was buried, and concludes, "If any be profited, I haue the desired ende of my labour."

In the year of Greene's "Thirde and last Part of Conny-catching," Harman's "Caueat" was reprinted as "The Groundworke of Conny-catching," intimating that this was the source of such pamphlets, or using that name to make salable an old article. The "Groundworke" omits Harman's list of actual vagabonds and their "pelting speche," but adds three anecdotes: the first of rogues who at inns claim cloaks and swords not their own; the second, of a knave who sends a victim to look for his gold in a magic oak; the third, of a shifter who orders a feast and leaves it to be paid for by others, pretending he is going out to hasten the hostess.7

More important was "Cuthbert Cunny-catcher's" "Defence of Conny catching" (1592). Cuthbert, just come from Newgate, has found himself everywhere detected by such as have perused Greene's pamphlets. He tells six tales accordingly to prove roguery no exclusive possession of professional criminals. A cheating usurer is paid back by the wife of his victim who entices him to a window, shuts it down on his neck, and nails his ears to the ledge. A miller is discovered keeping a false hole in his hopper from which his own sacks are filled. Two lawyers are deceived by Will Sommers, who decides their rival claims by means of a walnut, awarding to each half the shell, and to their client the meat. A suitor wins the love of a citizen's daughter by talk of his Cheshire estate, only to be exposed at a feast; and a bigamist and a tailor who secretes his remnants are both brought to grief. "Was not this a conny-catcher, maister R. G.?" cries the author,8 after the recital of each knavery. You "would straine a gnat, and lette passe an elephant;" for "we conny-catchers are like little flies in the grasse which live on little leaves and doe no more harme; whereas there bee in Englande other professions that bee great conny-catchers and caterpillers, that make barraine the field wherein they baite."

Strewn through the tract are allusions to other trades, and the public is warned that the alewife nicks her pots, hostlers have shifts, the vintner waters his wine, the draper darkens his shop, lawyers lengthen their pleas, the butcher "hath pollicies to puffe vp his meate," and Greene himself is a conny-catcher, to prove which he is bidden "aske the Queens Players if you sold them not Orlando Furioso for twenty nobles, and when they were in the country sold the same play to the Lord Admiral's men for much more."

The significance of the "Defence" lies in its aim to extend the discoveries of roguery from criminals to tradesmen. The Spanish fictions did this from the first by exposing the vices of the masters served by the picaros, and Greene, in the "Discouery of Coosnage" and the "Qvippe for an Vpstart Courtier" (1592), had noted the tricks of colliers and jailers. The cue was fully taken, however, only in the anonymous "Greenes Newes both from Heauen and Hell" (1593), describing the hard fate of Greene's ghost.

St. Peter turned him back from Heaven's gate saying, "I haue heard of you, you haue beene a busie fellowe with your penne, it was you that writ the Bookes of cony-catching, but sirra, could you finde out the base abuses of a company of petty varlets that liued by pilfering cosonages, and could you not as well haue descryed the subtill and fraudulent practises of great conny-catchers, such as rides upon footeclothes, and sometime in coatches, and walkes the streetes in long gownes and veluet coates?" In Hell the afflicted ghost fares no better, for there the conny-catchers themselves inveigh against him with horrible threats; and Lucifer thrusts him forth, to remain a restless soul wandering through the world.

Another pamphlet that bore Greene's name in the title and conjured up his ghost was "Greene in Conceipt, new raised from his graue to write the Tragique Historie of faire Valeria of London" (1598). This was composed by John Dickenson, a disciple of Lyly. The story of Valeria describes a well-born wanton who forsakes her husband for a rake, and deserted by the latter dies repentant, after her children have come to bad ends, and her paramour, tired of "scouring the westerne plaines for pursses," has been hanged. Extravagant euphuism marks the style, and the imitation of Greene is rather that of his early romantic works, although Dickenson makes him refer to these slightingly: "I am hee whose pen was first emploied in the aduancement of vanitie, and afterward in the discouering of villanie … in the former of which I confesse I haue offended … yet dare I boldly affirme, that my later labours haue made a large part of amends for those former vanities." The ghost of Valeria is supposed to have been met by that of Greene, and her story is told by Greene to Dickenson to show that there is one woman of ill repute who has died reformed, and who being dead does not wish to return to life.

Samuel Rowlands in "Greenes Ghost Havnting Conie-catchers" (1602) pretended to edit what is really a theft from previous conny-catching pamphlets, those of Greene especially. Rowlands declares that "the name of Conicatchers is so odious, that now a dayes it is had vp, and vsed for an opprobrious name for euerie one that sheweth the least occasion of deceit." Among his fifteen stories appear the tricks of colliers, as detailed in the "Blacke Bookes Messenger;" the trick of reclaiming others' property at inns and fairs, from the "Groundworke of Conny-catching;" the story of a false cry of justice, from the "Dispvtation Betweene a Hee Conny-catcher and a Shee Connycatcher;" the fraud of blindfolding a victim in Paul's as if by mistake, from the "Thirde Part of Connycatching;" and an abridgment of the bigamist story, from the "Defence of Conny catching." Tricks as old as the securing of a loan on a chest filled with stones, harking back to the "Cid," are in evidence, and "the notable, slie, and deceitfull pranks of Doctor Pinchbacke" are based on the old cheat of discovering by magic an object really stolen.

In "The Art of Iugling or Legerdemaine" (1612), probably by Rowlands, the magic cheat reappears in illustration of the "foppery of foolish cosoning charmes." Here Cuthbert Cony-catcher and Swart Rutter, having stolen certain horses, reveal their whereabouts through a charm. A number of juggling tricks, too, are explained, and the possibilities of cheating at cards and dice are dwelt upon in the spirit of another and earlier gaming tract. This was "Mihil Mumchance, his Discouerie of the Art of Cheating in false Dyce play, and other vnlawful games" (1597).9 Like other unsigned works of the kind, it was attributed to Greene, although inferior to his recognized writing.10 After treating of dicing and card tricks, it sets forth cheats practiced at fairs and markets. Here Awdeley's ring-faller dodge reappears with a gilt sword for the ring, and a lady substitutes a copper for a gold chain as she hangs caressingly upon her gallant's neck. The dedication reads, "To all the chiefe cheators11 in the gamning [sic] houses, as Bedlam, Coleman-street, Morefields, North-house, Charterhouse, Shoolane, Westminster, & all others, Mihil Mumchance sendeth greeting, and with all wisheth confusion to your damnable profession." Three years later in "The Letting of Hvmovrs Blood in the Head-Vaine," a satire marked by picaresque touches,12 we hear,—

But come to Dice; why thats his onely trade,
Michell Mum-chaunce, his owne invention made.

A far echo of the tract sounds in "Hocus Pocus Iunior, the Anatomy of Legerdemain" (1634), in "The Nicker Nicked" (1669), and in "Leather-More, or Advice Concerning Gaming" (2d ed., 1668).13

The most eminent pilferer from "Mumchance," and from Greene and Harman also, was Thomas Dekker, the dramatist, who in much that he wrote gave rein to realism and satire. His "Wonderfull Yeare 1603" approaches Defoe's "Journal of the Plague Year;" his dependence upon Nash is significant,14 and his adaptation of "Grobianus" proves him a master of irony. But he deserves especial notice as the first after Greene to unify in a fiction separate accounts of rogues.15 If he showed little originality in matter, his treatment of it justified his thefts.

Dekker's "Belman of London" (1608)16 provides "a discourse of all the idle vagabonds of England, their conditions, their lawes amongst themselues, their decrees and orders, their meetings, and their maners of liuing." The author chances upon a cottage in the country where the "ragged regiment" is about to attend its quarter dinner.

"An olde, nimble tongd beldame" having hid him, he observes the initiation of a candidate upon whom the leader pours a pot of ale, declaring: "I doe stall thee to the Rogue, by vertue of this Soueraigne English liquor, so that henceforth it shall be lawful for thee to Cant (that is to say) to be a Vagabond and Beg, and to speake that Pedlers French, or that Canting language which is to be found among none but beggars." Then all the rogues hang on their new brother for joy, and he is instructed by the master that he must walk only in an allotted quarter, and give way to those in office on the holding up of a finger. The names of the rogue orders are told him exactly as enumerated by Harman in the "Caueat," whereupon all the company draw knives, rap out round oaths, and instead of a grace fall to.

When an orator rises to speak in praise of beggary, he begins, "My noble hearts, old weather-beaten fellowes, and braue English spirits … shall wee not walke up and downe in the world like Beggars, with olde blankets pind about us? Yes, yes, we will, roared all the Kennell as though it had beene the dogs of Palace Garden." The beggar's walk is a kingdom, says the orator, a whole city is his parish, in every man's kitchen his meat is dressed, in every man's cellar lies his beer, and the best men's purses keep a penny for him.

After the rout has broken up and the old woman has vouchsafed further information, derived from Harman and to be repeated in "The English Rogue," Dekker returns to town and from the "Belman of London" learns of city tricks called "Laws." "Mihil Mumchance" provides the Cheating Law; Greene's "Discouery of Coosnage" furnishes Barnard's Law, which also echoes the terminology of the "Blacke Bookes Messenger." Vincent's Law, the Black Art, the Curbing Law, the Prigging Law, the Lifting Law, all come from the "Second part of Conny-catching," as does Dekker's Figging Law, a mere compression of Greene's Discovery of the Nip and Foist. What Greene had called crosbiting, Dekker terms the Sacking Law; and of the Five Jumps at Leap Frog, so named because one man in each leaps over another, Greene's "Thirde and last Part of Conny-catching" provides two jumps17 and Rowlands's "Greenes Ghost" three. The conclusion of the "Belman" offers a "short discourse of canting," which turns out to be the very dialogue between an Upright Man and a Rogue given by Harman in the "Caueat."18 Thus Dekker's work is an unblushing plagiarism from several sources, prefaced by an original and interesting narrative. The latter resembles Cervantes's "Rinconete y Cortadillo" in presenting a session of rogues, but it differs from that novela in offering the first such account in its own literature, Cervantes having profited by the example of Mateo Aleman.

In Dekker's "Lanthorne and Candle-light" of the same year,19 a council sits in Hell to consider retaliating upon the "Belman of London" for his revelations, but the infernal messenger who is sent to the metropolis merely presents the Belman with a map of his own observations of cheats, "which map he hath set out in such collors as you see, tho not with such cunning as he could wish." This account includes a chapter on canting, with a glossary and rhymes drawn out of Harman. New names are given to the actors in several old frauds, and among fresh ones appear the dedicating of patchedup books to the rich, the stealing of jewels from goldsmiths by the use of duplicate boxes, and the waxing of horses' teeth to prevent their eating.20

The knavery of horse coursers is exhibited in devices by which cheap jades bought at Smithfield are furbished up for profitable sale. If the horse suffers from the glanders, the courser tickles his nose with feathers and the juice of garlic, or puts ale and mustard in the nostrils to keep them clean until the sale be over. A foundered horse he heats with running before exposing him for sale. If the horse halts, he removes a shoe and suggests that this is the cause; if the joints be bad he fouls and conceals them. An old nag he will make afraid of him with beatings so that it shall seem skittish. He will either burn its teeth to proper shape, or else prick its mouth so that none will venture to look at them. The description of Moonmen recalls Falstaff s characterization of his brethren,21 yet here the term applies to Gypsies; "they call themselues Egiptians, others in mockery call them Moone-men."

This tract appears to have won even greater success than the original "Belman," and in 1612 it was reissued with an addition as "O per se O, or A new Cryer of Lanthorne and Candle-light." The author rejoices that he can supplement the Belman's nocturnal researches with such as pertain to the day, for having taken into service a rogue, he has secured new information from this "diuellish schoolemaister whom I call by the name of O per se O." The name22 serves also for the refrain of a song which the vagabonds sing. The addition is made up by expanding old tricks. The Abraham Man and the Counterfeit Soldier are again described, and the sores worn by Palliards and other rogues are especially noticed. These are made by applications of unslaked lime, soap, and iron-rust, the spot being bound with a garter and pieces of leather. Then a linen cloth which has adhered to the blister is torn off, causing the place to bleed, and, in the case of the Great Cleyme, ratsbane is rubbed in, after further doses of "crowe-foote, sperewort, and salt." A sore on the forearm is called a soldier's maund, on the back of the hand a footman's maund, and above the elbow a mason's maund.

Dekker describes the congregation of the rogues at "Durrest-Fayre, kept on two Holy-Roode dayes, neere Tiwksbury," and assigns seven reasons for their gathering, chief of which is the hope of each to be chosen lord of the Fair. The work closes with a canting song later appropriated by "The English Rogue," and handed down even to Mark Twain's "Prince and the Pauper." Editions of the pamphlet after 1612 were entitled "Villanies Discovered," until in 1638 it appeared as "English Villanies."23

Dekker in the original "Lanthorne and Candle-light" had attacked Samuel Rowlands, from whose "Greenes Ghost," nevertheless, he did not scruple to borrow. He spoke of Rowlands as "an Vsurper that of late hath taken upon him the name of the Bel-man, but not beeing able to maintaine that Title, he doth now call himselfe the Bel-man's brother." Rowlands retorted in "Martin Mark-All, Beadle of Bridewell" (1610), by exposing Dekker as a purloiner from Harman.

This tract falls into two parts, the first giving an allegory of roguery and a map of its country, not unlike the famous "Carte du Tendre" of the précieuses, and the second and more important presenting a history of vagabonds from Jack Cade to Cock Lorrell. When Cade was slain, Hugh Roberts kept the rogues together with four laws providing that he himself was to have first pick of all booty, that those who were unfortunate in stealing might share with the successful, that no robbery was to be done within four miles of their haunt, and that no one should seek refuge there if pursued. Jenkin Cowdiddle followed and ordered that all rogues should spend their gains by Saturday night; Spysing, who succeeded him, attempted to capture London, but was hanged; and Puffing Dicke, who became ruler, invented the terminology for robbing on the highway, but discountenanced murders and the hoarding of treasure. Laurence Crosbiter, an old serving-man, held sway from 1491 to 1497, giving his name to the famous bullying trick. Then in the days of Perkin Warbeck, Richard Skelton, a tailor, came to the fore, and among other acts ordained fines for such as threw away their crutches. Cock Lorrell, "the most notorious knaue that euer liued," reigned from 1501 to 1533.24 He it was who first devised the twenty-five orders of vagabonds, "but because it is extant and in euery mans shop, I passe them over."25

A brief account of the Gypsies and their king and queen is followed by the statement that their language is devised from Latin, English, and Dutch, with some admixture of Spanish and French. A promised sequel to this picaresque chronicle never appeared.

Of Samuel Rowlands himself little is known. Like Lodge and Greene, he began as a euphuist and later turned to satire and crude realism. His versified knave series included the "Knave of Clubbes" (1609), the "Knave of Hearts" (1612), and the "Knaues of Spades and Diamonds" (1613). These were influenced by English anatomies of roguery, and slightly by Italian novelle. One story in the "Knave of Hearts" describes the tricks of two conny-catchers upon a third. They get him drunk, put out the light, and then as though it were still lit bid him judge of their throws at dice. He believes himself struck suddenly blind, so they leave him groping and with the score to pay. Similar elements are to be found in Rowlands's "A Paire of Spy-Knaves" and "Good Newes and Bad Newes" (1622), a rhymed jest-book. It is to be noted that Rowlands when he exposed Dekker's "Belman" as largely a rewriting of Harman's "Caueat" had no word to say concerning Dekker's more abundant thefts from Greene, though his own work shows perfect familiarity with Greene's conny-catching pamphlets, and he must have recognized the piracies. No doubt he realized that by calling attention to his rival's excerpts he would inevitably expose his own….


1… Henry Morley (English Writers, vol. x, p. 95) points out that Greene evidently intended each of the seven personages here to illustrate one of the seven deadly sins. He got no further than Pride, Lust, and Gluttony.

2 This reappears verbally in Dekker's Belman of London (1608) as "The Third Jump at Leap Frog;" it figures less literally in The Groundworke of Conny-catching (1592).

3 Borrowed by Samuel Rowlands in Greenes Ghost Havnting Conie-catchers (1602).

4 He did not live to fulfill the pledge, although in the Registers this is entered Aug. 21, 1592, as the Repentance of a Conny-catcher. Thomas Middleton's Blacke Book (1604) is a satirical review of the London slums by Lucifer, who concludes with ironical bequests to sundry rogues.

5 This trick is appropriated by Fidge in his criminal pamphlet, The English Gusman, or the History of that Unparallel'd Thief James Hind, 1652.

6 Rowlands steals this trick in Greenes Ghost Havnting Conie-catchers.

7 A version of the inn-trick in the Thirde and last Part of Conny-catching.

8 Grosart thinks he may have been Valentine Bird, to whom Nash refers in Haue with you to Saffron-walden as a friend of Gabriel Harvey, and as writing against Greene.

9 Cf. Gilbert Walker's Detection of Detestable Use of Dyce Play (1552), and the Puritanic Treatises Touchyng Dyce Play and Prophane Gaming, by Thomas Newton, and a Treatise of Dicing (1577), by J. Northbrooke, "wherein dicing, dauncing, vaine playes, or enterluds" are reproved.

10 Cf. Questions concerning Coniehood and the nature of the Conie (n. d.).

11 The term "cheat" is here explained as derived from "our Lawyers, with whom all such casualls as fall to the Lord at the holding of his leetes, as waifs, straies, and such like be called Chetes, and are accustomably said to be escheted to the Lordes use."

12 Cf. Epigram 7 and Satyre 3.

13 Reflections on allied amusements may be found in George Wilson's Commendation of Cockes and Cock-Fighting (1607) and in Taylor the Water Poet's Bull and Bear Baiting (1638).

14 Jusserand, English Novel, p. 332, et seq.

15 Dekker and George Wilkins issued Iests to make you Merie; With the Coniuring up of Cock Watt (the walking Spirit of Newgate), in which, however, the low-life scenes are inferior to those in the Belman.

16 Robert Daborne had a play, The Bellman of London (1613). Cf. Fleay, vol. i, p. 83.

17 The third is Greene's fourth story, here called Fawning; the fourth is Greene's third story, here called Foole-taking.

18 Burton, author of The Anatomy of Melancholy, in his copy of Dekker's Belman of 1608, now in the Bodleian, noted passages taken from Harman; but, so far as I know, the dependence of Dekker upon Rowlands and Greene has never before been indicated.

19 Hazlitt and others speak only of a 1609 edition; but that of 1608 is in the British Museum. In Dekker's Seuen deadlie Sinnes of London (1606) the terms candle-light and Bell-man are juxtaposed. "O candle-light, candle-light! to howe manie costly Sacke-possets and reare Banquets hast thou beene inuited by Prentices and Kitchen-maidens? When the Bellman for anger … hath bounced at the doore like a madde man," p. 22. A ballad "Lantron and Candle-lyghte" was licensed to W. Griffith in 1569–70.

20 This hostler's ruse figures in The Three Ladies of London; cf. ante, p. 53.

21 "We that take purses go by the moon and the seven stars, and not by Phœbus; … let us be Diana's foresters, gentlemen of the shade, minions of the moon; and let men say we be men of good government, being governed, as the sea is, by our noble and chaste mistress the moon, under whose countenance we steal." 1 Henry IV, Act i, sc. 2.

22 In Greenes Newes both from Heauen and Hell, the ghostly paper delivered to the author begins, "It is I, I per se I, Robert Greene, in Artibus Magister," to which Dekker's O per se O may be an allusion.

23 The full title was English Villanies Seven Severall Times Prest to Death by the Printers; But (still reviving againe) are now the eighth time, (as at the first) discovered by Lanthorne and Candle-Light; by the helpe of a New Cryer, called O-Per-Se-O. The ninth edition of 1648 substituted "eight" for "seven," and, like the former, added Harman's canting dictionary and four canting songs.

24 Cock Lorrell was frequently referred to. Cf. such ballads as A Strange Banquet, or the Devil's Entertainment by Cock Laurel at the Peak in Derbyshire and The Treatyse Answerynge the Boke of Beardes. For the reference to him in Jonson's Gipsies Metamorphosed, see infra, ch. vi, sect. 1, p. 241.

25 An allusion to Cocke Lorelles Bote and to the Fraternitye of Vacabondes, whose twenty-five orders were "confirmed foreuer by Cocke Lorell."…

Frank Aydelotte (essay date 1913)

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SOURCE: "The Rogue Pamphlets," in Oxford Historical and Literary Studies, Vol. 1, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1913, pp. 114–139.

[In the following excerpt, Aydelotte offers an overview of Greene's "conny-catching" pamphlets and discusses whether they should be regarded as fact or as fiction.]

… Robert Greene was as good an authority on London sharpers and conny-catchers as was Thomas Harman on wandering beggars. He wrote five pamphlets describing their tricks…. He had lived among the conny-catchers and perhaps practised their tricks himself in his wild days following his travels in France and Italy. The pamphlets exposing them he wrote during the violently repentant years (1591–1592) just before his death. They show evidence of great haste in composition, and are somewhat haphazard in their arrangement; one of them, The Second Part of Connycatching, seems to have been garbled in the printing, since the paragraphs apparently intended to begin the pamphlet occur somewhere in the middle.1

The Notable Discouery of Coosnage is evidently an experiment undertaken with the double intention of satisfying his conscience and attracting the public. It contains a table giving the principal methods of cheating, a few of which Greene describes in detail, and a long discourse at the end on the 'Coosenage of Colliars'. The Second Part of Conny-Catching is manifestly the result of the success of the Notable Discouery of Coosnage, and the best part of it is an enlargement on matters merely outlined in the first pamphlet. The Thirde and Last Part of Conny-Catching is a continuation of the series as a result of the great success of the first two parts. It is composed entirely of stories illustrating the methods which Greene has just been describing. One is tempted to say that here Greene leaves fact and begins with fiction, according to the words of his confession quoted below.

The same criticism applies to the Disputation Betweene a Hee Conny-catcher and a Shee Conny-Catcher and the Blacke Bookes Messenger. The first is a discussion between a thief and a whore as to which can do the most harm. They maintain their arguments by describing their various tricks, telling many stories in illustration, till the woman finally wins the day. The Blacke Bookes Messenger was intended by Greene to herald the publication of a Black Book containing the names of all the conny-catchers and cozeners which were then operating in London. The Messenger is a pamphlet narrating the wicked life and shameful death of Ned Brown, a cut-purse, whom Greene represents as practising all kinds of conny-catching tricks. It shows carelessness in composition: on the title-page we are told that Brown died unrepentant, but the event is different, for he ends piously enough with a long exhortation to those disposed to follow in his footsteps.

It is evident that Greene, finding that conny-catching pamphlets paid well, worked them during that wretched last year of his life for all they were worth. In the address to 'The Gentlemen Readers' prefixed to his Vision (the address was probably written in 1592, though it is clear, as Churton Collins points out, that the Vision itself was written in 1590) Greene says, 'I haue shotte at many abuses, ouer shotte my selfe in describing of some; where truth failed, my inuention hath stood my friend.'2 I believe that this statement was meant by him to apply especially to the fantastic stories and 'laws' of the Thirde and Last Part of Conny-Catching, Disputation Betweene a Hee Conny-Catcher and a Shee Conny-Catcher, and Blacke Bookes Messenger; but there is no reason for making from Greene's morbid confession too sweeping a condemnation of the three pamphlets. Their atmosphere is that of the earlier exposures which he gives himself so much credit for making, and a hundred details in them help to fill out the picture of rogue life. One can only guess which stories were true and which imaginative; this conjecture is hardly worth the trouble, since no importance attaches to the decision. One of them, the story of the 'Cutler and the Nip', was apparently told about the town for true, since Greene tells it a second time in the Thirde Part of Conny-catching, because he had made a mistake in his version of it in the Second Part. Although his pamphlets are not to be taken in the same literal way as Harman's Caueat, they are far more valuable than Harman's in suggesting the atmosphere of rogue life. Harman's book is plain, honest matter of fact: Greene's pamphlets are a part of the literature of roguery.

Greene's exposures seem to be made from the life, but in two or three places, as we have noted, he copies from an earlier work. The description of 'Barnard's Law', in the introduction to the Notable Discouerie of Coosnage, follows practically word for word the account in the Manifest Detection.3 But Greene introduces this passage as a quotation (or at least as history), prefacing it with the words: 'There was before this many yeeres agoe a practise put in vse by such shifting companions, which was called the Barnards Law,' &c., and he quotes it only to show how much worse is the modern practice of conny-catching.

Later in the same pamphlet his explanation of the word 'law' as used for a method of cheating, and his connycatcher's speech in self-justification, on the ground that there is deceit in all professions, are likewise borrowed word for word from the Manifest Detection.4 These plagiarisms are all in comparatively unimportant passages, and, considering the standards of the time, it would be a mistake, it seems to me, to argue from them any general impeachment of the truth of Greene's exposures.

Greene was a queer compound of idealist and rogue. He began, evidently, with aristocratic notions of literature, writing his early love pamphlets in elegant euphuistic language. For the Elizabethan popular drama he had a contempt for which we should have much more sympathy if we knew that stage only as it was in the early '80's. In a general way Greene's position at the beginning of his literary career was that of the classicists of his day, Webbe, Puttenham, and Sidney. But a reckless and dissipated life soon brought him to terms with the stage, and he became a fairly popular dramatist. His plays brought in money, but money only increased his dissipation, and he sank a step lower, from writing plays to roguery, or at least to association with rogues. From Euphuist to playwright, from playwright to conny-catcher: the second descent seemed no greater to him than the first. Dissipation soon played havoc with his bodily health, and at length, two years before his death, out of money, estranged from his wife and from whatever of good reputation he may have had, he began to write his confessions and his exposures of low life. He was prompted, perhaps, by a real, although sentimental repentance, perhaps by want of money, perhaps by love of notoriety—who shall untangle his motives? In any event the result was the conny-catching pamphlets, which, in spite of their carelessness and occasionally improbable stories, bear on their face the stamp of truth and are the most vivid and brilliant works of the kind which the age produced. So much for his work. Regarding the man himself—too brilliantly talented to be called unfortunate, and too weak to be called tragic—no sentence fits so well as Stevenson's comment on Villon: 'the sorriest figure on the rolls of fame.'…


1… At p. 88 of vol. x of Grosart's edition.

2Greene's Vision, 'To the Gentlemen Readers' (Grosart, xii. 195–6).

3 Compare Manifest Detection, sig. D3 verso f. (Percy Society, vol. xxix, p. 37 ff.), with Greene, Notable Discouerie of Coosnage (Grosart, x. 9 ff.).

4Manifest Detection, sig. B4, f, and B7 verso (Percy Society, xxix, pp. 17 f. and 22 f.); Greene, Notable Discouerie of Coosnage (Grosart, x. 33–5)….

Robert Naylor Whiteford (essay date 1918)

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SOURCE: "From Sir Thomas Malory to Sir Francis Bacon," in Motives In English Fiction, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1918, pp. 1–51.

[In the following excerpt, Whiteford examines several of Greene's euphuistic novels and finds an increasing emphasis on autobiographical elements from one to the next.]

… When in her chamber Mamillia, debating as to whether she will be true to her father or to her lover Pharicles, soliloquizes, "no misling mists of misery, no drenching showers of disasterous fortune, nor terrible tempests of adversity shall abate my love or wrack my fancy against the slippery rocks of inconstancy: yea if my lands will buy his ransom or my life purchase his freedom, he shall no longer lead his life in calamity," we are at once aware that Robert Greene, a graduate of Cambridge, has begun to write fiction in 1583 in the style of John Lyly. The most noteworthy euphuistic novels of Robert Greene's are Mamillia (1583), Gwydonius (1584), Arbasto (1584), Pandosto, the Triumph of Time (1588), Perimedes, the Blacksmith (1588), Alcida (1589), Menaphon Mourning Garment (1590), Never Too Late (1590), Philomela (1592), A Disputation Between a He Conny-Catcher and a She Conny-Catcher (1592), The Black Bookes Messenger, Laying Open the Life and Death of Ned Browne, One of the Most Notable Cutpurses, Crosbiters, and Conny-Catchers That Ever Lived in England (1592), and Groatsworth of Wit Bought with a Million of Repentance (1596).

In Mamillia there is the slight autobiographic flavor of Greene's acquaintance with the slum-banditti of Europe. In Saragossa Pharicles fascinated by its underworld fell into the net spread by the wiles of a courtesan, Clarynda, dwelling therein. Mamillia, to whom he had pledged his love, at once in Padua puts on the apparel of disguise and runs like Shakespeare's Portia to the Saragossan courtroom to save the life of Pharicles who had been accused by Clarynda of being a public spy. Mamillia before the magistrate of Saragossa revealing her identity pleads his cause so well that she is rewarded by having a faithless wooer thrown into her arms for a husband. Pharicles, not at all ashamed of his previous conduct, asks that all his forepassed follies be forgiven and forgotten; and Mamillia quickly assures him that she has no ill things to remember at his hands.

In Arbasto: the Anatomie of Fortune (1584) we listen to Arbasto, once King of Denmark, but now a hermit residing in a cave near Sidon, who insists on relating how his life had been ruined by his love for Doralicia, daughter of Pelorus, King of France. During a truce in the war waged with France he had met Doralicia in the camp, where at the same time without his knowledge he was looked upon and loved by Myrania, the youngest daughter of Pelorus. At length Pelorus seized Arbasto and Egerio, his friend, and cast both of them into prison from which they escaped by the strategy of Myrania. At this time Arbasto influenced by the feeling of gratitude pledged himself to Myrania in spite of the fact that his heart belonged to Doralicia. Myrania, finding out his double dealing from the correspondence he had been carrying on with her elder sister, pines away and is on her death-bed when Arbasto comes to comfort her with hypocritical words which intimate that he will shortly make her his queen. In hellish fury Myrania started up in her bed gesticulating in a frenzy and, notwithstanding that she was kept down by her ladies, succeeded in articulating and hurling at the head of Arbasto the most hateful curses:

"O hapless Myrania, could not Medea's mishap have made thee beware? Could not Ariadne's ill luck have taught thee to take heed? Could not Phillis misfortune have feared thee from the like folly: but thou must like and love a straggling stranger? Ay me that repentance should ever come too late: for now I sigh and sorrow, but had I wist comes out of time; folly is sooner remembered than redressed, and time may be repented, but not recalled."

"But I see it is a practice in men to have as little care of their own oaths, as of their Ladies honors, imitating Jupiter, who never kept oath he sware to Juno: didst thou not false Arbasto protest with solemn vows, when thy life did hang in the balance, that thy love to Myrania should be always loyal, and hast thou not since sent and sued secretly to win the good will of Doralice? Didst thou not swear to take me to thy mate, and hast thou not since sought to contract with her a new match? Thou didst promise to be true unto me, but hast proved trusty unto her? What should I say, thou hast presented her with pleasant drinks, and poisoned me with bitter potions: the more is my penury, and the greater is thy perjury. But vile wretch, doest thou think this thy villany shall be unrevenged? No, no Egerio: I hope the gods have appointed thee to revenge my injuries: thou hast sworn it, and I fear not but thou wilt perform it. And that thou mayest know I exclaim not without cause, see here the Letters which have passed between this false traitour and Doralice"


"Clear thyself traitorous Arbasto thou canst not, persuade me thou shalt not, forgive thee I will not, cease therefore to speak, for in none of these thou shalt speed. Egerio I saved thy life, then revenge my death, and so content I die, yet only discontent in this, that I cannot live to hate Arbasto so long as I have loved him."

And with that, turning upon her left side, with a gasping sigh she gave up the ghost….

Arbasto in the pangs of remorse did not move to meet the advances of reconciliation on the part of Doralicia. At length, being abandoned by his own people for having broken his promise, he left Denmark for a hermit's cave wherein he could sorrow for the mishap of Myrania and could rejoice over the misery of Doralicia. As Malory's maid of Astolat had looked at Launcelot and had loved him with the love that was her doom, so Robert Greene's Myrania had looked upon and loved Arbasto. They were both such tender-hearted maidens that they could not survive the shock of unrequited love. In Greene's early novels we have tender-hearted women such as Mamillia, Myrania, Bellaria, Isabel, and hard-hearted men such as Pharicles, Arbasto, Pandosto, and Francesco. In Pandosto (1588) Bellaria for her faithfulness to Pandosto is rewarded by seeing her husband cast their lawful babe into a boat to have the whistling winds for a lullaby and salt foam for sweet milk and by having him cast her into a prison to pass to a speedy death.

In Never Too Late (1590) in the city of Caerbranck, Brittaine, we see Francesco making love to Isabel, the daughter of Seigneur Fregoso. Isabel seems determined to have Francesco even though her father frowned upon the match because her suitor was not rich enough in lands. The lovers secretly eloped together on horseback to Dunecastrum where they were married. Her father pursued and caught them, accusing Francesco of not only stealing his daughter but some plate. Francesco was put into prison and Isabel kept under vigilance in the house of the Mayor. Francesco was at length freed from custody by the Mayor who had once been young himself and realized "youth would have his swin ." After the lovers had lived for five years in the country in the highest kind of connubial bliss, Fregoso forgave the couple and recalled them to his house in Caerbranck, in which for two years they continued to live in all happiness until Francesco was called on business to the city of Troynouant where he met the wicked woman, the siren Infida. Isabel, knowing very well what is keeping her husband in Troynouant, takes the gentlest measure that ever a woman took to reclaim her erring spouse. She writes the following letter filled with tenderest solicitude for Francesco rationally submitting for his perusal just what would make any reasonable husband break off from his inamorata.



If Penelope longed for her Ulysses, think Isabel wisheth for her Francesco, as loyal to thee as she was constant to the wily Greek, and no less desirous to see thee in Caerbranck, than she to enjoy his presence in Ithaca, watering my cheeks with as many tears, as she her face with plaints, yet my Francesco, hoping I have no such cause as she to increase her cares: for I have such resolution in thy constancy, that no Circes with all her enchantments, no Calipso with all her sorceries, no Syren with all their melodies could pervert thee from thinking on thine Isabel: I know Francesco so deeply hath the faithful promise and loyal vows made and interchanged between us taken place in thy thoughts, that no time how long soever, no distance of place howsoever different, may alter that impression. But why do I infer this needless insinuation to him, that no vanity can alienate from vertue: let me Francesco persuade thee with other circumstances. First my Sweet, think how thine Isabel lies alone, measuring the time with sighs, and thine absence with passions; counting the day dismal, and the night full of sorrows; being every way discontent, because she is not content with her Francesco. The onely comfort that I have in thine absence is thy child, who lies on his mother's knee, and smiles as wantonly as his father when he was a wooer. But when the boy says: "Mam, where is my dad, when will he come home?" Then the calm of my content turneth to a present storm of piercing sorrow, that I am forced sometime to say: "Unkind Francesco, that forgets his Isabel." I hope Francesco it is thine affaires, not my faults that procureth this long delay. For if I knew my follies did anyway offend thee, to rest thus long absent, I would punish myself with outward and inward penance. But, howsoever, I pray for thy health, and thy speedy return, and so Francesco farewell.

Thine more than her owne


In perusing this letter the reader should note the reference to Isabel's little boy who is quoted as saying, "Mam, where is my dad, when will he come home?" For by it there is caught a glimpse of the sorrows of childhood which are to be emphasized from this time on in English fiction. Later, in Fielding, another small boy will cry out to an Amelia as he hears a knock at the door, "There is papa, mama; pray let me stay and see him before I go to bed"; but no papa enters, for the (Booth) is supping with the perfidious Miss Matthews. As Robert Greene continued to write he emphasized more and more the autobiographic as in Never Too Late (1590). As Francesco in Troynouant maltreated Isabel in far Caerbranck by being false to her with the siren Infida, so Greene in London at the time of the composition of this novel no doubt was thinking of his abandoned wife and child in far Norwich. Indeed, in Fielding's Amelia (1751), this Francesco passes into a Booth playing Amelia false with Miss Matthews; and Isabel is a forerunner of Amelia, who clings to her husband (Booth) in spite of her minute knowledge of the fascinating Miss Matthews. Isabel has the Mamillia-like quality of forgiveness in her nature so that, when her husband comes back to her after quarreling with Infida, she royally forgives him for all his transgressions with a smile, a tear, and a kiss.

Groatsworth of Wit Bought with a Million of Repentance (1596), published after Greene's death and writ ten perhaps by Chettle, contains the simple story of an old miser, Gorinius, who had two sons, the elder of whom was Lucanio and the younger Roberto. When the old man felt death approaching he bequeathed his whole estate to Lucanio because he had executive ability and to Roberto he gave a groat so that by it the younger son could never contaminate himself with the accumulation of tainted wealth. A flauntingly gay young damsel Lamilia of the Elizabethan underworld appears. With the fickleness of her type she first aided Roberto in plundering Lucanio and then veered to the side of the elder brother to push Roberto hopelessly to the bottom of the quagmire. At this point in the story Roberto, robbed of everything, girl and brother, contemplates suicide. The novel is strongly autobiographic. In Never Too Late Francesco is referred to as a university scholar who teaches school amid the beauties of a rural district in order to support Isabel. In Groatsworth of Wit Roberto is such a fine scholar that he is advised by a player to turn his knowledge into money by writing dramas. One can read between the lines that this Roberto is Robert Greene; and, towards the end of the narrative, there is the pathetic reference to the gentle woman his wife who labored to recall him from the nips, foysters, coney-catchers, crossbiters, lifts, high lawyers, and all the rabble of that unclean generation of vipers. It would seem that Greene's wife was compelled to give her husband over to all lewdness. The perfect image of dropsy, the loathsome scourge of lust, without one groat was so sunk in the depths of heartless misery that he communicated his wife's sorrowful lines among his loose trulls that jested at her bootless laments. And at the close of the novel Robert Greene interrupts his own narrative in this manner, "Here (Gentlemen) break I off Roberto's speech; whose life in most parts agreeing with mine found one self-punishment as I have done. Hereafter suppose me the said Roberto … ," thus pronouncing it to be all autobiography.

Just as Christopher Marlowe humanized cruel, erring Tamburlaine as he stalks throughout tragedy an almost insane figure instinctively striking out at the uncontrollable circumstances which have balked and blighted him, so Robert Greene humanized the terrible Elizabethan underworld, of which he was a part, and into which, from the mouth of the murthering-piece of his own remorse, he shot ethical pellets in the form of pamphlet-fiction for the redemption of its inmates and himself. It is well to remember that Robert Greene enriched fiction with disguise of personality and embellished it with the romance of elopement for lovers; foreshadowed that sable land wherein would exist the sorrows of childhood; and emphasized autobiography….

J. S. Dean, Jr. (essay date 1973)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5222

SOURCE: "Robert Greene's Romantic Heroines: Caught Up in Knowledge and Power?" in Ball State University Forum, Vol. XIV, No. 4, Autumn, 1973, pp. 3–12.

[In the following essay Dean examines Greene's portrayals of heroines in his works and responds to various criticisms tegarding their characterization.]

Robert Greene (1558–1592) has been known as an adept plotter of plays, the developer of the double plot, a fast writer of prose narratives, and to some, a "Homer of women,"1 one who created subtle, delicate moods to envelop his chaste heroines. Greene's dramatic heroines have traditionally been praised for their fresh realistic portrayal, but recently these women, often found in arbors singing exquisite lyrics to the pleasing sounds of a lute or discovered on stage in a cottage warbling a ditty while serving ale and milk, have been judged by critics to be little more than pasteboard figures. This essay seeks redress against the defamation of Greene's characterization, and intends to show how his dramatic heroines, like his fictional creations of about the same time, are important in that they share in the knowledge of Fate and the power of Love, and become romantic instruments of comic resolution. In both Greene's fiction and drama, Fate, with its Greek bias, is openly hostile to human activity and thought. The heroines so caught up rail against Fortune in good set Elizabethan terms; they emote as the situation demands, controlled by, yet reacting to, their essentially absurd human condition. The inconsistency of their actions, like the actions of most protagonists of Tudor fiction, bear ample witness to Walter Davis' observation that under such circumstances character and idea have little relation to action2 (an interaction assumed essential by nineteenth and twentieth century psychological realists seeking verisimilitude). Though subject to Fate, Greene's heroines are, nevertheless, graced with the ability to love and be loved. That gift allows these romantic comic figures to resolve not only their personal misfortunes, but in so doing also to set right public affairs by restoring the body politic to its natural state of order.

Though literary fashions may have changed from Greene's day to ours, the basic philosophical questions have not done so. Greene's romances (medievalism in euphuistic and romantic dress) point up the absurdity of human frailty trying to exist in a universe ruled by Fortune, where the center apparently cannot hold. Greene's heroines are unable to put on true knowledge of their predicaments, but as females, and, as the proverb goes, soonest to love, they are able to put on the power of love. Their love, a mixture of eros and agape, allows them instinctively to bring about both personal and political order. Greene's purpose is not didactic, for as a good artist, he instinctively prefers the dulce before the utile, an aim quite different from that of Yeats. For this reason, when Greene gets his heroines out of a jam in present-day thriller fashion, he is not copping out literarily. He is preferring plot and action to speculation: the story must move on. He chooses to be vivid through action rather than philosophical through the pregnant symbol. To attack Greene because he was unable to yark up truly philosophical speeches for his comic characters is like criticizing Beatrice and Benedick or Hero and Claudio for engaging in battles of wit rather than wisdom. Besides creating romantic heroines, Greene offered a contribution through his characters to the comedy of manners, with its emphasis on the human condition.

How did Greene conceive his women? Just how do his heroines react to the hostility of Fate? These questions will be considered principally in terms of Fawnia and Sephestia, the heroines of Greene's most successful romances Pandosto (1588) and Menaphon (1589), and Margaret and Dorothea, heroines in his best plays Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay (1589) and James the Fourth (1588–92).3 In speaking for many,4 T. M. Parrott and R. H. Ball in their A Short View of Elizabethan Drama (New York: Scribners, 1943), p. 73, give the traditional view of the dramatic heroines of Greene: "More fully realized, lifelike, and credible than the shadowy women of Lyly's plays, they strike a note of true romance and are in a sense the forerunners of such romantic heroines as Rosalind, Viola, and Imogen." Sometime earlier, Robert Jordan in his Robert Greene (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1915), p. 52, observed that "fortune, not personality, is the moving power" of Greene's characters. That note has been repeated and emphasized recently. Norman Sanders, in "The Comedy of Greene and Shakespeare" (Early Shakespeare, Stratford-upon-Avon Studies, No. 3 [London: St. Martin's Press, 1961]), p. 45, comments that since Greene consistently sacrifices character for effect, psychological realism is "much less important than what may be termed the psychology of the immediate emotional situation. For it is the situations and their place in the complete comic pattern that are significant." Similarly, Kenneth Muir in "Robert Greene as Dramatist" (see note 4) finds the character of Margaret in Friar Bacon wanting depth. Past critics, Muir says, have treated her "as though she were as three-dimensional as a character in a novel and praise her for qualities she does not possess" (p. 49). As for Dorothea in James the Fourth, Muir can take her only as "an incredible paragon…. Even if we make due allowances for the belief in the theory of wild oats and for medieval (and Elizabethan) admiration for patient Griseldas, such facile forgiveness, such inhuman lack of resentment, takes away from the reality of the character. She shrinks into pasteboard" (pp. 51–52). In his edition of the same play (London: Ernest Benn, 1969), p. xix, J. A. Lavin calls Ida and Dorothea "little more than personifications of feminine virtue…. Neither is psychologically moti vated, their function in the play being purely exemplary," as borne out in the latter character, who is "an emblem rather than a realistically motivated character" (p. xx).

Greene's characters are clearly a function of their situation. They are indeed more fully realized than those of his contemporaries, but they still retain the symbolic function of character basic to the morality plays and look forward to the impressionistic function of character in the patterned ballets of the Stuart masques yet to come. His heroines can nevertheless speak meaningfully of the human condition. They are, like Yeats' Leda, characteristically put upon by Fate, most often incarnate as a male who catches them up, masters them, leaving us to wonder whether they had or gained any real knowledge from the encounter.

How do Greene's romantic heroines meet their fates? Greene's fiction can establish the context. Walter R. Davis observes that under the influence of the late Greek romances—Heliodorus' An Ætheopian History, Longus' Daphnis and Chloe, and Achilles Tatius' Clitophon and Leucippe—an Elizabethan character no longer simply railed against his capricious socioeconomic fate as commonly signified in the medieval emblem of Fortune's wheel; he had to fight for survival in what was a hostile universe where character and ideas absurdly cannot beget or control action:

To put the matter perhaps too simply, the writers of prose fiction in the 1580's, faced with the opposed models of the Euphuistic mode and Greek romance, were essentially confronted with a choice between dialogue expressive of character and ideas but devoid of action, and action devoid of meaning. But Robert Greene made just such a simple and radical choice…. [when he] accepted from Boccaccio the Greek romantic vision of a world governed not by the precepts of human reason but by the absurdities of chance. Then he produced some of the most impressive pure narrative fiction to come from the sixteenth century, in Pandosto and Menaphon. [Pp. 166–67]

That observation informs not only Greene's fictional protagonists but his dramatic heroines as well. These ladies emote in Greek terms against the existentially absurd, divisive human situation, then by means of love are able to bring about union and order. This is the essential achievement of Greene's heroines, whether fictional or dramatic.

Love to Greene, writes Daniel Seltzer (Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1963), p. xvi, is

the major antidote for the vagaries of fortune…. the primary power for rejuvenation in nature. In this sort of comedy, the wedding march merges with the ceremonial march of kings and princes who rule happy and prosperous countries; human love, once tested, is instrumental in effecting such order. All of Greene's known plays (and a few others very likely by him) end with a comic celebration of natural order in the marriage, reunion, or reconciliation of lovers and, simultaneously, in the establishment of felicity in the state.

Likewise, J. A. Lavin finds in Bacon's prophecy (xvi. 42–62) "the point insisted on by all of Greene's plays, that human love is a necessary prerequisite for individual happiness, political stability and the preservation of the natural order" (Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, London: Ernest Benn, 1969, p. xxvii).

By embodying and promulgating the allegory of love, Greene's women are central to the action of their dramas. As personifications, even more as physical and emotional manifestations of love, they are subject to the rapes of fortune as their love is tried. Then by that love, now an uncloistered virtue, these heroines become the means by which humans can join together in what is a divisive and meaningless universe. Consider how Greene's typical romantic and dramatic heroines of the late 1580's and early 1590's effect reconciliation.

The advertisement on the title page of Menaphon provides a scheme which informs our two romances and two plays: "Wherein are deciphered the variable effects of Fortune, the wonders of Loue, the triumphes of inconstant Time."5 In the same romance Greene enjoins the Gentlemen Readers to "take a little paines to prie into my imagination" (IV, 8). In so doing, we find that Greene's Fortune is not only proverbially fickle, but further variable as it interacts with Love and Time. Commonly Fortune attempts to dominate Love within the continuum of Time. But Pandosto or "The Triumph of Time" advertises that "although by the means of a sinister fortune, Truth may be concealed yet by Time in spight of fortune it is most manifestly revealed…. Temporis filia veritas" (VI, 227). Time is needed for Fortune's deceptions and for Love to unmask itself. Toward the end of Friar Bacon when Serlsby and Lambert vow their love for Margaret, already bethrothed to Lacy, the heroine replies how Fortune has dominated Love, and with it, her too; that Love will not be stayed; "nor can the flames that Venus sets on fire / Be kindled but by fancy's motion" (x. 52–53). She observes how "Fortune tempers lucky haps with frowns … Love is my bliss, and love is now my bale" (x. 90–92). Dorothea in James the Fourth similarly finds herself subject to Love, and hence to Fortune. "What should I do? Ah, poor unhappy queen, / Born to endure what fortune can contain!" (III. iii. 68–69).

Another way that Greene relates Fortune, Love, and Time is to have his heroines compare their present lots with those of some mythological heroine, frequently Helen, as Margaret does in Friar Bacon:

Shall I be Helen in my froward fates,
As I am Helen in my matchless hue,
And set rich Suffolk with my face afire?
[x. 93–95]

In Menaphon, Pleusidippus, holding the shepherdess Samela against her will and defending his castle against the shepherds, calls the Trojan war into comparison:

Why, what straunge Metamorphosis is this: Are the Plaines of Arcadie, whilome filled with labourers, now ouerlaide with launces…. the shepheardes hauing a madding humor like the Greekes to seek the recouerie of Helena, so you for the regaining of your faire Samela. Heere shee is, Shepheards, and I am Priam to defende hir with resistance of a ten years siege: yet for I were loath to haue my Castle sackte like Troy, I pray you tell me, which is Agamemnon? [VI, 130]

Pleusidippus intends this to be mock-heroic, but Greene also gains the perspective of time by using the classical analogy. In such historical context, all the "character" in the world is not enough to counter Fortune. Fawnia, in Pandosto, trying to resist the advances of Dorastus, says: "Thoughts are to be measured by Fortunes, not by desires…. No, lucke commeth by lot, and fortune windeth those threedes which the destinies spin" (IV, 285).

For Greene's heroines, especially those of the romances but also the plays, both Love and Fortune appear fickle and together with Time form an unstable triumvirate. Menaphon considers "how Venus was feigned by the Poets to spring of the froathe of the Seas; which draue him straight into a deepe coniecture of the inconstancie of Loue" (VI, 37). In Friar Bacon, Margaret pleads before Edward for Lacy's life, saying that her love is not mutable, and does not "hang in the uncertain balance of proud time" (viii.94). But in spite of a claim for extra-temporal love, Greene's heroines are still subject to the vagaries of Love. When Margaret gets Lacy's brush-off letter, she pulls out the emotional stops as she calls on Ate, asking: "Didst thou enchant my birthday with such stars / As lighted mischief from their infancy" (x. 141–42). In James the Fourth Greene, wisely relying on dramatic instinct, employs diversity of characters to produce an unpredictable situation. More typical is the intrusion of an openly malicious Fortune into human affairs as found in Pandosto: "Fortune enuious of such happy successe, willing to shewe some signe of her inconstancie, turned her wheele, and darkned their bright sun of prosperitie, with the mistie clouds of mishap and misery" (IV, 235). Like the fairies that begin, intervene, and end James the Fourth, Fortune, nearly personified, oversees Pandosto. The baby, put out to sea in a cockle boat, is allowed to survive the storm: "Fortune minding to be wanton, willing to shewe that as she hath wrinckles on her browes, so shee hath dimples in her cheekes" (IV, 264). Somewhat later in the story Fortune again intervenes, this time to spoil Fawnia's happiness: "Fortune, who al this while had shewed a frendly face, began now to turne her back, and to shewe a lowring countenance, intending as she had given Fawnia a slender checke, so she woulde giue her a harder mate" (IV, 270). King Egistus, we find, plans to have his son Dorastus marry the Danish princess. An elopment later, the lovers find further trouble. Pandosto, Fawnia's real father, has taken a fancy to her. She repulses his advances, exclaiming "Ah infortunate Fawnia thou seest to desire aboue fortune, is to striue against the Gods, and Fortune" (IV, 308).

Fortune is strong, and Fortune is fickle, as Sephestia sings to her child, telling him of his father's love, "last his sorowe" that was "first his ioy": "Weepe not my wanton, smile vpon my knee, / When thou art olde, ther's griefe inough for thee" (V, 43). Like Greene's other heroines, she too finds Fortune a strong adversary: "Sephestia, thou seest no Phisick preuailes against the gaze of the Basiliskes, no charme against the sting of the Tarantula, no preuention to diuert the decree of the Fates, nor no meanes to recall backe the balefull hurt of Fortune" (VI, 45). Similarly the nobleman-shepherd Democles grieves that love "should be ouermatcht with Fortune, and your affections pulde backe by contrarietie of Destinie" (VI, 121). With Sephestia-Samela the center of the conflict, Fate is able to work through her to ruin her father Democles: "Fame determining to applye her selfe to his fancie, sounded in his eares the singular beautie of his daughter Samela; he, although he were an olde colt, yet had not cast all his wanton teeth" (VI, 113). These heroines seem to draw Fortune's bolt as effectively as lightning rods: "Unfortunate Samela, born to mishaps, and forepointed to sin ister fortunes, whose bloomes were ripened by mischance, and whose fruite is like to wither with despaire" (VI, 133). Fortune, Love, and Time relate in ever-varying ways, generally to bring disaster through Love upon Greene's heroines. But Love is the one element that allows these heroines to accommodate themselves to Fortune.

According to the Elizabethan proverb, women are the soonest to love, yet out of their love comes the salvation of all. Recent criticism that points out the flatness of the characterizations of Greene's heroines suggests that perhaps Greene had other ideas than creating full-bodied females when he introduces a character. Imbued with intuitive capacity, his women act out Fortune-Love-Time's plan. These extraordinarily beautiful creatures inhabit a protean middle state facilitated by their disguises, applying art to nature, fusing intellect with the body, a combination of the chaste and cerebral Diana or Vesta with the Venus, earthy and passionately sexual. Unlike Shakespeare's persona, Greene's heroes saw many a goddess go.

Greene typically idealizes his mistresses through hyperbolical mythological comparisons. When, for example, Dorastus first sees Fawnia "he was halfe afraid, fearing that with Acteon he has seene Diana: for hee thought such exquisite perfection could not be founde in a mortall creature" (IV, 274). Her stepfather Porrus, shanghaied aboard the ship of the eloping lovers, finds her metamorphosed into a goddess: "He scarce knew her: for she had attired her selfe in riche apparell, which so increased her beauty, that shee resembled rather an Angell then a mortall creature" (IV, 298). Another goddess is Sephestia-Samela. Menaphon moons for "such a heauenly Paragon" (VI, 55) like Endymion. He describes her in a sensuous Ovidian vein that suggests Antony's infatuation for Cleopatra: "Nor could Menaphon Hue from the sight of his Samela; whose breath was perfumed aire, whose eyes were fire wherein he delighted to dallie, whose heart the earthlie Paradice wherein hee desired to ingraffe the essence of his loue and affection" (VI, 57). The nobleman in disguise, Melicertus, woos Samela in this fashion: "Mistres of al eyes that glance but at the excellence of your perfection, soueraigne of all such as Venus hath allowed for louers, Oenones ouermatch, Arcadies comet, beauties second comfort; all haile" (VI, 81).

Of the two plays, Friar Bacon presents its heroine, Margaret, as a goddess containing both Diana's and Venus' voluptuousness. In James the Fourth, however, those characteristics are parcelled out to Dorothea (chastity) and the lesser character, Ida (both voluptuousness and chastity). This diversification is probably what makes James the Fourth Greene's best play (just as Marlowe's Edward II is his best-balanced drama). When Greene finally came to write his plays, realizing the need for sharply differentiated characters he heightened the Vesta-Venus dichotomy of his heroines. Margaret in Friar Bacon is akin to Samela and Fawnia in that she contains both goddesses. The double image of Margaret allows her to resolve the formal pattern of this festive comedy through her semidivine status. Such a view of her, argues Peter Mortenson in his article "Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay: Festive Comedy and Three-Form'd Luna," follows an important mythological tradition that conflates the moon goddess with Venus.6 Edward describes her in terms more Ovidian than Petrarchan in their sensuality, then exclaims: "Tush, Lacy, she is beauty's overmatch, / If thou surveyest her curious imagery" (i.60–61). Yet this heroine, as all of Greene's, maintains her chastity. She "stands so much upon her honest points, / That marriage or no market with the maid" (i. 120–21). Later when Edward sees her in Friar Bacon's glass, she becomes Venus' equal, "as brightsome as the paramour of Mars," but attended by "a jolly friar" (vi.13–14); the description is both chaste and lascivious. As Henry describes Margaret to the Emperor, her beauty once again is composed of the divisive and antithetical qualities of lust and chastity: "Her beauty passing Mars' paramour, / Her virgin's right as rich as Vesta's was" (xii.45–46).

With everyone believing this keeper's daughter a goddess, it is no wonder that she comes to act like one. Greene's characters frequently assume a disguise only to find that they become the character they impersonate. In a way this is true with all these heroines. Margaret the maid becomes Margaret the lady. She rises to Edward's accusation, and replies as an equal in rank: "'Twas I, my Lord, not Lacy stepped awry; / For oft he sued and courted for yourself" (viii.36–37). Edward continues to try to win Margaret, but she will not be bought off: "Not all the wealth heaven's treasury affords, / Should make me leave Lord Lacy or his love" (viii.72–73). Greene's heroines, though unable to control Fortune, Love, and Time, are always steadfast in their loves. In the face of an absurd situation where man's ideas and character may relate to each other but not to his actions, the role of the female gives meaning to the situation. Especially in the earlier work she appears as a goddess embodying passionate virginity.

These romances and plays are comedies; hence there is an interaction of characters to bring about a happy end. The heroine's job is to seek reconciliation of private and public quarrels. Paradoxically, her love is divisive, separating passion from reason but nevertheless able to return things to a state of natural order. How does Greene allow his goddesses to reconcile the potentially tragic situations into comedy? A factor in the intricate and volatile Fortune-Love-Time triangle, both good and harm can come from the force of Love. Pandosto, for example, mistakenly believes that "Loue was aboue all Lawes and therefore to be staied with no Law" (IV, 237–38). He mistrusts his friend Egistus, who observes that "in Loue and Kingdomes, neither faith, or Lawe, is to bee respected" (IV, 244), when he discovers that Pandosto intends to kill him out of groundless jealousy. Years later, Doratus falls in love with the shepherdess Fawnia, but what was for them a matter of pure love turns out to have political meaning too; their marriage reunites Pandosto and Egistus (IV, 316). As the romance opens, so it closes, with the general population celebrating the marriage of love and policy, the citizens making "Bonfires and showes" and the courtiers and knights "Justs and Turneis" (IV, 316). The marriage for love that unknowingly turns out to be advantageous politically is also found in Menaphon. The foundling child Pleusidippus unknowingly becomes instrumental in bringing about political reconciliation (VI, 98). Within the last half dozen pages of Menaphon, Greene, in the lyric, "What thing is Loue," comes out and speaks in his own person as to the fateful nature and insidious force of Love, calling it a "power diuine," or a "wreakefull law," a star of compelling influence. Love is thus a discord between feeling and reason, a desire left unfulfilled, "a secret hidden and not knowne. / Which one may better feele than write vpon" (VI, 140–41). Love's duality in Greene's romances leads his characters from a heaven to a hell, then back to a heaven. The heroines are both the damnation and the salvation of their personal and their political affairs. In Menaphon, thanks to Sephestia and a mysterious old woman who unravels all, the characters, under the sign of Venus, reveal their true states. The son finds a mother, a husband a wife, and a father a daughter. Moreover, Sephestia's father, Democles, "impald the head of his yong neuew Pleusidippus with the crowne and diadem of Arcadie," makes his brother Lamedon a duke, and they all plan "to passe into Thessaly, to contract the mariage twixt Pleusidippus, and the daughter of the Thessalian King" (VI, 145). So much for the romances, where the heroines Fawnia and Sephestia are the prime movers (as Fate's playthings) of political reconciliation.

The plays fit this same pattern. In Friar Bacon, Lacy, Earl of Lincoln, has left court and gone rustic, "disguised like a swain, / And lurks about the country here unknown" (vi.96–97). All this for the beautiful keeper's daughter, Margaret of Fressingfield. Edward, Prince of Wales, feels her influence and asks himself if his "plumes be pulled by Venus down?" (viii.115). Even the King praises Margaret: "Her beauty passing Mars's paramour, / Her virgin's right as rich as Vesta's was" (xii.45–46). After Margaret's fidelity and chastity have been tested (cruelly, as is usual in Greene's romances), Lacy comes back for her. As she is about to enter the nunnery and pledge her allegiance to God, to take Vesta, not Venus, Ermsby states the issue to Margaret:

Choose you, fair damsel; yet the choice is yours,
Either a solemn nunnery or the court;
God or Lord Lacy. Which contents you best,
To be a nun, or else Lord Lacy's wife?
[xiv. 81–84]

In marriage Vesta and Venus can meet, for as with that favorite proverb to Greene, women may be wantons in their husbands. And so under Fortune's will Margaret characteristically chooses to be Lacy's wife, thus uniting familial and political factors: "Off goes the habit of a maiden's heart … And all the show of holy nuns … Lacy for me, if he will be my lord" (xiv.89–92).

Although James the Fourth does not present its heroine as quite the goddess of the other works, Dorothea perhaps shows best how Greene uses his heroines to reconcile political differences. Half chaste goddess, half patient and meek Griselda, Dorothea (with apparently none of the Venus about her as that role is given to Ida in this play) is the means by which England and Scotland are reconciled. The play opens and closes on this note. Dorothea stands as the instrument and symbol of the new unity between England and Scotland. But in James the Fourth we again have the basic dichotomy that Greene invests in all his heroines: the Vesta-Venus paradox, here divided between Dorothea and Ida. As James is lusting after Ida, he is futilely reminded by the Bishop of St. Andrews that he is "allied unto the English king" (II.ii. 130–31). At the play's end Dorothea has fulfilled the role of marrying sense and reason in her husband James, but not before he is tormented like Macbeth, with his bad choice that has thrown his realm into chaos:

Alas, what hell may be compared with mine,
Since in extremes my comforts do consist?
War then will cease when dead ones are revived,
Some then will yield when I am dead for hope.
[ 8–11]

Sir Cuthbert Anderson enters with Dorothea, still alive, still a goddess, who because of her great love for James, is able to forgive him with:

Shame me not, prince, companion in thy bed;
Youth hath misled—tut, but a little fault:
'Tis kingly to amend what is amiss.
[ 159–61]

Her father, the King of England, accepts the reunion and bows to the ascendant rule of Nature: "Thou provident kind mother of increase, / Thou must prevail, ah, Nature, thou must rule" (V. vi. 173–74).

Greene's dramatic and romantic heroines play a reconciliatory role. Under the sign of Fortune, Love, and Time, they take Love, divisive by nature as it separates sense from reason, and paradoxically after many misfortunes they use that divisive Love to reconcile opposing factions, both personal and public. To return things to a state of natural order, these heroines must be particularly attuned to Love, Fortune, and Time. They cannot control the trilogy, but through Love they can bring about a return to the natural state. Through disguises they can move as goddesses up and down the social scale from Arcadia to the court in their search for survival. Fortune ultimately allows them to unite sense and reason in their loves, hence in the state. These heroines have no control over their fates, though they react to them, generally moaning about Fortune's wheel and accepting the low life as more content than life at the top. These heroines combine the chastity of a Vestal virgin with the voluptuousness of Venus, and all are very beautiful. As symbols of Love they are instruments of fate, and as such are allowed in their conventional way to express their passions. Were Robert Greene's heroines of drama and romance, once caught up in Fortune, able to put on knowledge as well as power? Or put another way, are they cognizant three-dimensional characters? The answer is no, just as it probably was for Yeats' Leda. Power and knowledge, the province of Fate, were not granted human beings in Greene's view. Hence Greene's heroines, because of their close connection with Fate and Love, do not need to influence action through character. The gods took care of that. In their Petrarchan way, Greene's highly stylized heroines are half goddess, half human.

Greene's place in Elizabethan literature owes more than a little to his heroines, who, following after the creations of Lyly and Sidney, look forward to that aspect of Shakespeare's theatrics applauded particularly by the Restoration coterie audience, one attuned to a heroine's exquisite expression while caught on the horns of a dilemma. One constant in Shakespearean comedy is that salvation can come from the love of one woman—in spite of Fortune, and in defiance of Time. That view informs Greene's comedies and romances, too. It is perhaps a limited claim for them, but one that if Greene's heroines were merely cardboard figures, would require a metamorphosis that even Ovid would be hesitant to record.

Greene's self-nomination as "love's philosopher" does not make him an anatomizer of Lyly, for by 1587 Greene was several years past that influence, nor was he a literary raconteur of medieval philosophical abstractions as figured in Renaissance emblem books. His own hard life provided realities. His accomplishment was to create heroines who, by having a love that passed their own understanding and their misfortunes, are able with grace to bring forth comic resolution.


1 Thomas Nashe's phrase "Homer of Women" (The Anatomie of Absurditie [1589], in The Works of Thomas Nashe, ed. R. B. McKerrow, 1904–10: rpt. ed. F. P. Wilson [Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1966], I, 12) has been thought to refer to Robert Greene, a defender of the sex; I point out that Nashe later specifically sees Homer as critical of women: "reade over all Homer, and you shall never almost see him bring in Iuno, but brawling and jarring with Iupiter, noting therby what an yrksome kind of people they are" (I, 15). The celebrated phrase should be applied elsewhere.

2 Walter R. Davis, Idea and Act in Elizabethan Fiction (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1969), pp. 166–67.

3 The conjectural dates of composition of Greene's plays generally accepted are Alphonsus (1587), Friar Bacon (1589), Orlando Furioso and James IV (1591), though some scholars reverse the order of Friar Bacon and Orlando. As for James the Fourth, it is wise to take note of what Norman Sanders says in his edition of the play (The Revels Plays, London: Methuen, 1970), p. xxv: "Efforts to date the play's composition more accurately than simply '1588–92' have produced a little factual evidence and a good deal of speculation based on literary judgments."

4 Kenneth Muir ("Robert Greene as Dramatist," in Essays on Shakespeare and Elizabethan Drama in Honor of Hardin Craig, ed. Richard Hosley [Columbia: Univ. of Missouri Press, 1962], p. 53) and J. A. Lavin (Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay [London: Ernest Benn, 1969], p. xxv) cite the traditional view of Greene's heroines as expressed, among others, by J. A. Symonds, Churlton Collins, Thomas H. Dickinson, Ashley Thorndike, G. P. Baker, C. F. Tucker Brooke, F. E. Schelling, J. M. Robertson, J. C. Jordan, and Allardyce Nicoll.

5The Life and Complete Works in Prose and Verse of Robert Greene, M.A., ed. A. B. Grosart. 15 vols. (1881–86: reissued New York: Russell & Russell, 1964), IV. 3. Further references to Greene's romances will be to Grosart's edition and will be cited contextually, as will the references to his plays, taken from the editions noted above: Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, ed. J. A. Lavin, and James the Fourth, ed. Norman Sanders.

6English Literary Renaissance, 2 (Spring 1972), 203–205. This article came to my attention after I had written mine.

Charles H. Larson (essay date 1974)

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SOURCE: "Robert Greene's Ciceronis Amor: Fictional Biography in the Romance Genre," in Studies in the Novel, Vol. 6, No. 3, Fall, 1974, pp. 256–67.

[Below, Larson examines Ciceronis Amor: Tullies Love, surveying its literary context, early popularity, and emphasis on friendship.]

There are, at present, strong signs of renewed interest in the prose fiction of Robert Greene. New editions of Pandosto and A Notable Discovery of Cozenage in a widely-used college text, a lengthy chapter on the prose in a recent commentary on Elizabethan fiction, a spate of doctoral dissertations on Greene, and a proposed new edition of his complete works all testify to the existence of an overdue reconsideration of Greene as one of the most interesting and versatile of Elizabethan authors.1

It is the purpose of this paper to further that reconsideration by focusing on one of Greene's most popular works, Ciceronis Amor: Tullies Love, in an attempt to understand both the reasons for its early success and the position that it occupies in relation to other Elizabethan prose fiction. Ciceronis Amor is scarcely ever read today, but this fact alone should not condemn it to literary limbo. One of the functions of criticism has always been to draw to others' attention little-known works which are valuable in themselves and which shed light on the literary issues of their age. Ciceronis Amor meets both of these criteria.


While there is no entry for Ciceronis Amor in the Stationers' Register, it seems probable that Greene wrote it shortly before the publication of its first edition in 1589. Chronologically, this would place it between two of Greene's better-known romances, Pandosto (1588) and Menaphon (which René Pruvost, on sound evidence, assigns to the closing months of 1589).2 All three romances show Greene returning to a longer narrative form after working for some time with collections of shorter novelle like Penelope's Web and Planetomachia. When these three fine pieces of prose fiction are read in combination with Greene's best play, Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, also generally assigned to 1589, it becomes clear that this period of a year or so saw the full maturation of Greene's literary talent. When he finished these, he had written very well indeed the type of literature that he had been working on for a decade. He was soon to turn to another—to the series of underworld pamphlets which may or may not reflect the events of the last years of his life.

Ciceronis Amor is unusual among Greene's writings in that no substantial source for it has ever been found. Even the individual scenes and speeches are apparently devoid of sources with the exception of one; the description of Fabius's discovery of Terentia sleeping in the forest and his subsequent transformation from a simple dolt into a refined courtier (pp. 184–89) is very nearly a literal translation of a portion of Boccaccio's tale of Cimon and Iphigenia in the first novel of the fifth day of the Decameron.3 This episode is an interesting one thematically, and we shall return to it later.

To judge from the title and some of the prefatory material to Ciceronis Amor, one might guess that Greene is creating here a prototype of the biographical novel. When we examine the book more closely, however, we learn that nothing could be farther from the truth. On the first page of the dedication, he states an intention "to pen downe the loues of Cicero, which Plutarch, and Cornelius Nepos, forgot in their writings," with the implication that he has been researching his subject. It is not until the reader does some research of his own that he discovers that while Cornelius Nepos did indeed write a biography of his friend Cicero, that it seems not to have been extant in Greene's day, just as it is not extant in our own. (Greene's contemporaries may have been more aware of its absence than we are and thus would have been alerted as to what was in store for them.) In the case of Plutarch, it is fairly certain that Greene was familiar with his Life of Cicero in the Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, a work to which he would have had access either in its Latin version or in Thomas North's famous 1579 translation. But he does little more with it than pluck the names of a few Romans mentioned by Plutarch (Vatinius and Annius Milo, among others—names which he could also have found in Cicero's letters and orations) and turn around the picture that Plutarch presents of Cicero's wife, Terentia. Plutarch depicts her as a strong-willed woman at best and a shrew at worst; it is no surprise to learn that Cicero divorced her. The gracious beauty that we find in Greene, then, can come as a surprise, but perhaps not a surprise without forewarning. Green explicitly tells the reader, after all, that he is going to inform him of what Plutarch "forgot" to relate. The result is, as we shall see, something quite different from an accurate account of life in Rome of the first century B.C., and even less is it an accurate account of the life of Marcus Tullius Cicero; but it is hard to be disappointed in the additions furnished by Greene's imagination.

There was a possible precedent for this sort of "historical" fiction in Antonio de Guevara's Libro del Emperador Marco Aurelio (1529). Guevara's book had been translated from the Spanish, first in 1532 by Lord Berners, and then again in 1557 (this time from an intermediate French version) by Thomas North under the title of the Dial of Princes. The interest of the book turned not so much about any aspect of the biography of Marcus Aurelius as it did about the moral dissertations, the countless "ensaumples," and the rhetorical style.4 By contrast, Ciceronis Amor is much more concerned with getting a story told, and to this extent Greene is breaking some new ground in English prose fiction: William Painter and Barnabe Rich had earlier told short historical tales, adapted from Italian novelle, but no one had worked with an extended narrative based on a historical figure. For this reason, if for no other, the traditional critical view that has seen Greene as a sort of literary chameleon, never innovating, never attempting a form which was not already popular, needs to be reassessed.5

To say that this type of fiction had no proven record of popularity is not, however, to imply that Greene was taking a stab in the dark. He surely must have realized the book's potential for success even as he was planning it. The title alone would have been a sufficient guarantee. Cicero's nearly all-encompassing position in the Renaissance educational curriculum is a well-known fact. But one suspects that frequently enough this primacy, rather than creating a near-absolute veneration for him on the part of generations of schoolboys, fostered a certain resentment against the rote memorization of what must have seemed an overly-burdensome "classic." To an audience so conditioned, a story which claimed to tell of a love affair of the grave orator perforce possessed an enticing novelty.

This curiosity factor, together with other causes, made Ciceronis Amor popular for at least forty years. Unlike Lyly's Euphues, it did not immediately go through a sizeable number of editions, but it did exert a steady, if unspectacular, appeal up to the time of the Revolution in 1640. There were nine early editions—one each in 1589, 1597, 1601, 1605, 1609, 1611, 1616, 1628, and 1639.6 Virtually all of Greene's writings appeared in multiple editions, but none in as many as Ciceronis Amor during the period that it was in print. Even Pandosto, which was to remain available well into the eighteenth century (no doubt in part because of its use by Shakespeare as the source for The Winter's Tale), had only eight editions before 1640. The seven seventeenth-century editions of Ciceronis Amor mean that it fell only three editions short of the minimum number of ten that Charles C. Mish uses to distinguish the "best sellers" in seventeenth-century fiction.7

We know today that a book's potential for financial success during this period was directly dependent upon its appeal to the more literary burgher readers. While the dedicatory preface to Ciceronis Amor would seem to indicate that Greene was writing for an audience of aristocratic courtiers, in all probability a work such as this one would have been equally attractive to the London citizens. Ciceronis Amor has all of the verbal elegance necessary to capitalize on the court faddishness that was in part responsible for Euphues's initial success, but it also has a sufficiently substantial plot to enable it to compete with the tales of Emanuel Forde and other popular contemporary romancers. If the plot does not have the same emphasis on chivalric adventure as do those of Forde, it has a love interest that would make it especially enticing to female readers. Critics since Jusserand have noted that several important works of Elizabethan prose fiction, by Lyly, Pettie, Fenton, and others, seem to have been directed primarily to an audience of women. Ciceronis Amor is not so obviously oriented toward one sex or the other, but it is certain that a lady, either of the court or of the city, would enjoy the chastely amorous wooing in the book and would be pleased when the narrator recognizes her presence in addressing the "courteous Ladies and braue gentlemen" who are reading his story (p. 188).

All this raises some larger issues concerning what Greene's audience, and Greene, would have said was the justification of a piece of fiction like Ciceronis Amor. The title page carries the Horatian precept: Omne Tulit punctum qui miscuit vtile dulce.8 The idea that pleasure and profit should be mixed was a standard critical tenet in English literature for several centuries, one to which everyone paid at least lip service. If Greene (even during the early part of his career) or one of his readers was pressed to explain it, however, he might well have said that what really mattered was the useful, the inculcation of moral virtue via the written word for the betterment of society and one's immortal soul. But, like humans in all ages, their desires and their practices did not always accord too well with their professed system of ethics, and what they in fact read most eagerly was probably literature whose rewards were distinctly those of pleasure. This is not to say that the popularity of Ciceronis Amor indicates that its readers took it to be nothing more than mindless entertainment (as we shall see, its friendship theme touched upon an important issue in Renaissance values), but there can be little doubt that, from the gloomy Puritan religious tracts that were so much in evidence, they would have turned to it for an hour or two of amusement and relaxation that carried little threat of damnation. In the dedication to Greene's Vision, the author apologizes for the "laciuious Pamphleting" by which he earned a living for several years and asks pardon if his writing has offended his readers. The apology seems superfluous, to say the least, for there is absolutely no prurience, no amorality in Greene's fiction; there is plenty of amatory talk and some outright lust, but in the end evil is always punished, virtue rewarded, and chastity either preserved or, more frequently, replaced by wedded bliss.


Today, Ciceronis Amor should be safe from the type of criticism that it once would have had to face. No longer considered to be novelists manqués, Greene and most of the other Elizabethan authors of prose fiction are now customarily read as romancers. Northrop Frye's influence in bringing about this change has been pronounced. The criteria by which he has delimited the romance as a literary type and separated it from the novel are extremely useful in the understanding of early English fiction: stylized characters who expand into psychological archetypes, improbability of motivation, and a setting unrepresentative of everyday reality.9

Ciceronis Amor possesses all these qualities of nonrealistic fiction. There is, it is true, some attempt to create and maintain a setting (perhaps a more serious attempt than in any of Greene's earlier fiction, most of which is substantially unlocated in time and space), but this effort is confined mainly to a liberal sprinkling of Roman personal and place names. No one is ever going to go to Ciceronis Amor to learn anything about Cicero's Rome—the texture of social background here is simply too thin. Furthermore, there is considerable historical conflation present in this romance, both in small specific details and in larger socioliterary concepts. An example of the former is the presence of a clock in a Roman household (p. 114) many centuries before its development. This type of conflation is relatively unimportant, however; it is the latter type that is of greater critical significance. In this matter the vocabulary can be a good index of what is going on. At one point in the narrative, Greene labels his protagonist Lentulus, Cicero's friend, a "cavalier" (p. 109) and at another a "courtier" (p. 199). In so doing, he is adding elements that are distinctly medieval to his Roman narrative. And, when the facts are considered carefully and Ciceronis Amor is compared to other sixteenth-century fiction, it becomes clear that the story Greene is telling here is a Western European, postclassical tale which has been deliberately placed in a classical setting. Elements of medieval chivalry were popular in Elizabethan romances (e.g., Lodge's Rosalind), for they were an effective means of distancing the archetypally idealized characters and actions from the Elizabethan present. Greene wants to be able to avail himself of aspects of this medieval social tradition—a tradition, it must be remembered, which had virtually created the concept of romantic love—but he also wants the novelty of his Roman setting. So he simply combines the two, expecting his readers not to scruple unduly about courtiers in a nation without royal courts. His expectations were undoubtedly well-founded. Renaissance readers seem to have been far more interested in the extrahistorical aspects of characterization, plot, and style, than they were in factual accuracy.

There is little about the characterization in Ciceronis Amor that could be described as realistic. The three principal characters, Lentulus, Cicero, and Terentia, are all representative types—Lentulus of the successful general turned unsuccessful wooer, Cicero of the bright young commoner who earns social position by his wit, and Terentia of the girl whose extraordinary beauty is accentuated by her chastity. The same is true of the most significant minor character, Fabius, the rustic who is transformed by love into a gentleman. To our modern sensibilities, trained as they are by novels, this sort of characterization may not seem as appealing as the more picaresque variety practiced by Nashe in The Unfortunate Traveler (1594) or Deloney in Jack of Newberry (c. 1597).10 But there is a different intention in each of these pieces of prose fiction and each has a method of characterization appropriate to it. Eccentric quirks in the personality of Jack Wilton are very much a part of the whole digressive structure and style of The Unfortunate Traveler, but the smooth elegance of Ciceronis Amor clearly requires something else. In Greene's romance, the characters are stylized so that thematic importance and verbal ingenuity are not obscured by palpably human literary creations; rather, theme is explicitly revealed here through the characters so that when, at story's end, they are all brought together in social accord, there is a simultaneous knotting up of the book's various themes.

Lentulus is clearly more successful in this story as a military campaigner against the Parthians than he is as a suitor of Terentia. But this does not mean that he is merely a socially inept soldier. He is, in fact, nearly the ideal Renaissance courtier, complementing his military valor with learning and grace.11 The reader, it is true, does not always see these more refined qualities in Lentulus directly, but nearly all of the other characters report that he has them. Terentia's father, Flaminius, for example, in enumerating to her all of the reasons why she should marry Lentulus (pp. 198–99), touches on all of the attributes of the perfectlyendowed man—his blood lines, record of national service, wealth, courage, handsomeness, and gentlemanly polish. The poem that Lentulus writes in praise of Terentia (Greene supplies two versions—a Latin "original" and an English translation) is fashionably, if anachronistically, Petrarchan, and when he engages Archias, a full-time poet, in a wit combat, he holds his own with ease. His only shortcoming emerges when he encounters the first rebuff of his life: Terentia rejects his suit, and the shock addles him considerably. Failure in love is something which he never anticipated, and it proves to be a wound which can be healed only by friendship.

The friendship is given by Cicero, the titular hero of the romance. He is the character who contributes a democratic note to the story, the young man of lowly origins (the historical Cicero was actually of reasonably high birth) who rises socially by dint of his eloquence and his amiability. Greene frequently idealizes a common man in his romances, but Cicero is a rather special case, for a character with his name obviously cannot be idealized in the same way that Greene had idealized Perymedes the blacksmith. Cicero here is exquisitely refined in everything except his attitudes toward his fellow men; in these, he retains a simple humility (again not particularly characteristic of the historical Cicero) and friendliness which prevent him from becoming an insufferable upstart.

The title page promises the prospective reader that one of the rewards of perusing the book will be the discovery of the superiority of friendship to the adoration of feminine beauty. It is dubious that the claim is fulfilled, but this is not to say that the ideal of friendship is slighted. In fact, it probably receives favorable attention nearly equal in amount to that given to love. As was noted a moment ago, it is friendship that finally pulls Lentulus out of his doldrums. The friendship that he shares with Cicero goes through several stages in the course of the narrative. At first, it seems that Lentulus is interested primarily in getting to know Cicero because he thinks that the orator's talents might be of use to him in winning Terentia. Cicero, however, is always genuinely attached to Lentulus: even when Terentia bluntly tells him that she loves only him, Cicero still holds out the hope that she might change her mind and love his friend Lentulus. The first indication that his fidelity to Lentulus is being reciprocated comes when he persuades Lentulus that he will do anything at all to help him if only the warrior will reveal what is making him so morose (pp. 143–45). Lentulus does, and in so doing begins to appreciate how much Cicero is willing to give up for the cause of friendship. Complete reciprocity is finally achieved when Lentulus reads Terentia's ultimatum to Cicero and understands the sacrifice that his friend is making for him (p. 205). From this point on, the generosity and affection that are the hallmarks of friendship bring about the same selflessness in Lentulus that was always present in Cicero, and this accord prepares the way for the happy resolution of the plot's love interest.

In presenting so favorably the positive values of friendship, Greene was placing himself squarely in the middle of an important current running through Renaissance literature. The notion that friendship was the highest possible bond between humans, higher than either the ties of kinship or of sexual love, was one which many authors picked up to repeat and, often, to study more carefully.12 However frequently and sincerely these claims were put though, it nevertheless remains true that none of the major Renaissance authors, from Spenser in The Faerie Queene to Shakespeare in Two Gentlemen of Verona, finally proves the validity of the theory of superiority by presenting convincing examples in his characters. After discussing friendship, all of the authors return in their fiction to situations where we sense their deepest sentiments lie to love between man and woman. Robert Greene is no exception; friendship in Ciceronis Amor is not an end in itself, but rather is preliminary to another sort of caritas.

It is Terentia, of course, who is the focal point of romantic love. Through her, Greene presents the passions, confusions, frustrations, and finally joys of love between the sexes. From an adamant chastity, she moves to a single-hearted devotion to Cicero. She too is a stylized character, but not so much so that she has no human warmth. On the contrary, again and again, from her dutiful service to her father in the banquet scene near the beginning (pp. 115–16), to her impassioned plea on the last page, she shows all of the qualities of a sweet young girl who is making a difficult transition from one view of life to another. Critics have always been attracted to Greene's female characters and with good reason. In girls like Terentia, Fawnia of Pandosto, and Margaret of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, he has combined naive spontaneity and virtuous chastity. There are very few authors who are able to please our modern tastes with female characters who are both attractive and chaste. Shakespeare, to be sure, achieved it in his Portia and Isabella, but even so considerable a talent as Richardson failed with Pamela. In a Greene heroine vivaciousness and virtue are always so inextricable that we could never wish her otherwise.

Pruvost is surely right in observing that even though Greene's young ladies are viergès sages, they also are possessed of a remarkable self-confidence which enables them both to discretely encourage whatever suitor they favor and to act independently of their fathers' resolutions in the matters.13 Because Terentia does not hesitate to act according to her desire, because she does not fear to tell her father that "in loue, parentes haue no priuiledge…. for loue is chosen by the eye and confirmed by the heart" (p. 200), she becomes one of the first of a very notable group of Renaissance women, a group that was to include Juliet, Desdemona, and Sir Giles Overreach's daughter, Margaret. In a society (be it Roman or Elizabethan) where marriages were most often arranged by parents, their independence was a wish-fulfillment which could happen only in literature. But because it happened there, it can provide an artistic pleasure for our age as well as theirs.

A discussion of the revelation of theme through character leads naturally enough to a consideration of plot. Unlike its chronological neighbors in Greene's canon, Pandosto and Menaphon, Ciceronis Amor has a plot which is relatively straightforward and obvious. It is well known by now that in developing the narratives of the other two, Greene relied heavily on the structural principles of the Greek romance, on the works of Heliodorus, Longus, and Achilles Tatius. Menaphon and Pandosto, like the Greek stories, make liberal use of chance or fortune as a motivating force to tie together a loose series of events. Samuel L. Wolff has taken Greene sharply to task for this, calling him "Fortune's abject slave" and generally objecting that he relies too much on fortune to keep these stories going.14 We would not need to concern ourselves particularly with Wolffs accusations, were it not for the fact that he does not confine his criticism to Menaphon and Pandosto, but broadens it to include most of Greene's romances. Of Ciceronis Amor, he states that nearly everywhere in the story "Fortune is said to be, and is, busy at every turn."15 Wolff would have been much more accurate had he left out the parenthetical "and is." He is correct that there is much talk of Dame Fortune in the book—nearly every character mentions her at least once. But when the causes of the narrative's events are examined, it is seen that of those which are of any significance at all, only two cannot be attributed to human decisions, and one of these—Fabius's stumbling upon Terentia asleep in the grove—is the type of coincidental happening that one might expect in even a more realistic novel. The other exception is a more important one; it occurs at the beginning and involves Cupid's random arrow striking Lentulus so that this highly professional soldier forgets about the honors of war as soon as he hears the report of Terentia's beauty. So blatant a use of a deus ex machina starts the romance off shakily, but fortunately Cupid as a character soon is forgotten as other events begin to accumulate.

There are, to be sure, some improbabilities in the plot, but they are not without human causes. Love is one of these causes, one which might conceivably be mistaken for fortune by both characters and readers. It is love, for example, that moves Terentia to take a walk in the countryside in hope of meeting Cicero (pp. 168–69). More significant is the metamorphosis of Fabius (pp. 187–88). A curious transformation, it is explained by the narrator as the triumph of love over fortune. There is no reason to doubt that love was in fact what jolted Fabius out of his benign cloddishness (why he was dull can be attributed to "Fortune" as well as it can to anything else). It accords well with what seems to be the case, and it is also Fabius's own explanation; he says that he was "so surprised with [Terentia's] loue that … I haue gaind a seconde essence by hir sweete selfe" (p. 209). We should remember, of course, that the narrator's analysis is a part of the scene that is translated nearly verbatim from Boccaccio. Interestingly, the "borrowing" is terminated just before the last sentence of the episode—"Let vs then think of loue as of the most purest passion that is inserted into the heart of man." This final word is Greene's own and in effect signs his approval to what has gone before, but it also adds a slight amplification. The preceding sentences had spoken of love as a sudden divine intervention which, like the fortune it conquers, seemingly operates independently of the humans it affects. But the last sentence tends to shift the emphasis. Love is still of exalted origin, only it now remains in the heart as a passion, prepared to interact further with that person and, presumably, with the affections of another.16

This scene with Fabius and Terentia is finally also of interest to us insofar as it constitutes the last element in the larger episode of the pastoral interlude in the Vale of Love, an episode whose presence in the scheme of the romance is perhaps in need of justification. The old, and previously unchallenged, opinion here is that the Vale of Love is largely irrelevant, that it is dragged in merely to capitalize on the pastoral vogue which had entered English literature with Spenser's Shepheards Calender in 1579 and which had gained considerable impetus as the manuscript version of Sidney's Arcadia began to circulate.17 This view, however, ignores what should be fairly obvious about the scene in this idyllic valley, with its friendly shepherd and his tale of the courtship of Coridon and Phyllis—that this inset tale prefigures the happy conclusion of the affair between Terentia and Cicero and that the entire interlude influences Terentia to the extent that after it is over she frankly avows her love for Cicero and will not be told otherwise by anyone. What happens in the tale and its accompanying ode is, it will be recalled, the persuasion of a reluctant lover by an uncoy mistress, a persuasion exactly like the one that Terentia is going to have to work on Cicero. Terentia realizes this; when the tale and ode are over and the shepherd falls silent, we are told that it "touched hir passions" and that she began to grow "into the effects of loue that keepes no proportion of persons" (p. 184). She had been in the process of falling in love for some time, but she had been confused and uncertain as to what she should do. Now she can return to Rome with new self-confidence and a clearer understanding of what her passion means. The effect of this brief pastoral is thus very similar to that of longer pastorals in Lodge and Shakespeare; the characters find an ideal and an inner harmony in the "green world" which they can then apply to their problems in the "real world" and happily resolve their personal indecisions and crises. It is a matter for us of finding the correspondences between parallel fictional environments.

These techniques of imaginative fiction, then, clearly make it impossible for the reader to deal with Ciceronis Amor as even an approximation of biography. But this is no doubt just as Greene would have it. He as an author understands very well Sidney's warning in the Defense of Poesy that the historian is made captive by the "bare was." In this tale, he is determined to flirt with those historical limits solely from the outside, never choosing to enter them and submit himself to their rule.


1Pandosto and A Notable Discovery in Merritt Lawlis, ed., Elizabethan Prose Fiction (New York: Odyssey, 1967); Walter R. Davis, Idea and Act in Elizabethan Fiction (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1969). The new edition has been proposed by the Shakespeare Institute of the University of Birmingham; it would replace the now-outdated Life and Complete Works in Prose and Verse of Robert Greene, 15 vols. (1881–86; rpt. New York: Russell & Russell, 1964).

2 René Pruvost, Robert Greene (Paris: Publications de la Faculté des Lettres d'Alger, 1938), p. 335.

3 Pagination is to Grosart's edition in Vol. VII of the Complete Works.

4 J. J. Jusserand, The English Novel in the Time of Shakespeare, trans. Elizabeth Lee, rev. ed. (London: Unwin, 1908), p. 106.

5 Tucker Brooke, "Greene and His Followers" in A Literary History of England, ed. Albert C. Baugh, 2nd ed. (New York: Appleton, 1967), p. 421. See also Edwin H. Miller, The Professional Writer in Elizabethan England (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1959), p. 92. It should be noted that in plays such as Norton and Sackville's Gorboduc (1561) the English drama had already employed "biography" as a basis for literature.

6 An early bibliographer, Samuel E. Bridges, Censuria Literaria (London: Longman, 1808), VIII, 388, also reports editions in 1592, 1615, and 1632, but, unless Bridges is in error, there are no known copies of these extant today.

7 "Best Sellers in Seventeenth-Century Fiction," Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 47 (1953), 356–73. There were only nineteen works of fiction that went through more than ten editions between 1600 and 1700. The ones which receive most critical attention today are (in order of descending popularity): Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, Pandosto, Deloney's Jack of Newberry and The Gentle Craft, Sidney's Arcadia, and Lyly's Euphues (no edition after 1636). The others are mostly older romances, full of adventure and lush, exotic description.

8 This was the motto that Greene used for his title pages until 1590. Then, as the nature of his fiction changed, so did his mottoes, to Nascimur pro patria and Sero sed serio, the former presumably reflecting what he took to be his patriotic motives in writing his "cony-catching" pamphlets and the latter his personal repentance.

9Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1957), p. 304.

10 It is important to notice the dates of these works. The art of presentation of character developed rapidly in the 1590s, building on and branching out from the methods of Greene and Lyly.

11 Cf. Samuel L. Wolff, "Robert Greene and the Italian Renaissance," Englische Studien, 37 (1907), 323, who claims that the ideal of the doubly-accomplished courtier finds no place in Greene's fiction.

12 Spenser, for example, professed to see friendship triumphing over other contending relationships "no lesse then perfect gold surmounts the meanest brasse" (The Faerie Queene, IV.ix.2). For a listing of all the works in which this theme appears (the accompanying criticism, unfortunately, is not particularly perceptive), see Laurens J. Mills, One Soul in Bodies Twain: Friendship in Tudor Literature and Stuart Drama (Bloomington, Ind.: Principia, 1937).

13 Pruvost, p. 576.

14The Greek Romances in Elizabethan Prose Fiction (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1912), pp. 374–87. For a recent, and important, reconsideration of Wolff s views, see Davis, Idea and Act, pp. 138–88.

15 Wolff, Greek Romances, p. 374.

16 It is worth noting that this verdict on the nature of love is one of the very few judgments made by the narrator in Ciceronis Amor. Greene's penchant for narrative detachment has been noted in the past (Davis, p. 170; Pruvost, p. 343). Virtually the only judgments made on the characters and their actions in this romance are those which they make themselves and those which the reader makes as he responds to the text.

17 John C. Jordan, Robert Greene (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1912), p. 43; Wolff, "Italian Renaissance," p. 369.

Richard Helgerson (essay date 1976)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 9177

SOURCE: "Greene," in The Elizabethan Prodigals, University of California Press, 1976, pp. 79–104.

[In the following excerpt, Helgerson describes the conflicting forces found in Greene's fiction and examines the progression of his writings from prodigality to repentance.]

No one will be surprised to find prodigality linked with the name of Robert Greene. Who can forget Harvey's account of his riotous life and miserable death, the penury, the loneliness, the pitiful plea for a cup of Malmsey wine?1 Even the printer of Greene's last work saw him as a prodigal. "And forasmuch as the purest glass is the most brickie, the finest lawn the soonest stained, the highest oak the most subject to the wind, and the quickest wit the most easily won to folly, I doubt not but you will with regard forget his follies and, like to the bee, gather honey out of [his] good counsels."2 This passage carries us from Harvey's colored facts into the realm of Euphuistic fiction. The language is Lyly's; the figure described a latter-day Euphues, quick witted, easily won to folly, transformed by repentance into a good counsellor.

Neither Harvey nor the printer invented the identification of Greene with the prodigal. Greene himself discovered and publicized this myth, and in so doing he replaced Euphues as the most popular Elizabethan representative of the type. But, unlike Euphues', Greene's was a particularly literary prodigality. He did of course make much of his dissolute life, his abandonment of his wife and his wanton behavior in London, but he regretted still more the vanity of his "amorous pamphlets." Thrice called back from the grave, by Henry Chettle in Kind-Heart's Dream (1592), by B. R. in Greene's News both from Heaven and Hell (1593), and by John Dickenson in Greene in Conceit (1598), he appears always in the guise of the repentant author, prohibited heaven, according to B. R., "for writing of books." But if writing damned him, it also saved him. He was "banished out of [hell] for displaying of conny-catchers." This appraisal of Greene's chances in eternity, borrowed from his own oft repeated judgment of himself, completes the pattern of prodigality. Satire serves an antidote to romance. The former wanton makes amends by warning others of the dangers he has known. Gascoigne did it; Euphues did it; and now Greene does it. But even Greene's admonition has particular application to the literary world. He directs his counsel "to those gentlemen his quondam acquaintance that spend their wits in making plays" (XII, 141).

Greene was more a writer and less a courtier than the other university or inns of court men of his generation. Nothing in his career compares to Lyly's parliamentary service, to the military employment of Gascoigne, Rich, Whetstone, or Saker, to Gosson's advancement in the Church, to Lodge's adventuring, Sidney's work as a diplomat, or Harington's attendance at court. Nor does Greene seem to have written with an eye to preferment. "He made no account," Nashe tells us, "of winning credit by his works…. His only care was to have a spell in his purse to conjure up a good cup of wine with at all times."3 His works did have politically and socially prominant dedicatees, but he seems to have hoped from them no more than money. His real audience was the book-buying public. As long as that audience patronized romance, it mattered little to Greene that his writing might disqualify him from more respectable employment. This insouciance won him a literary freedom that most of his contemporaries lacked, a freedom that was, however, shortlived. For despite his apparent indifference to the expectations that usually accompanied a humanistic education, he was eventually overtaken by repentance and his abandoned self.

Why is so much Elizabethan fiction autobiographical? Part of the reason is self-advertisement, but part too may be guilt. As Paul Goodman has remarked, "The guilty do not pay attention to the object but only to themselves."4 Greene's career nicely illustrates this truism. As his guilt increased, so did his attention to himself, until, in one of the most remarkable passages in sixteenth-century fiction, he breaks off his Groatsworth of Wit to confess that he and his protagonist are one. "Hereafter suppose me the said Roberto" (XII, 137). And his last work, his Repentance, is explicit autobiography. Like Lyly, who identified himself with Euphues but not with Philautus, Greene enters his own fiction only when it records defeat. But before coming home to the guilty self, he went much further than Lyly had in the exploration of a romantic other.

Greene's career began in the shadow of The Anatomy of Wit. The style, action, and characters of his first work, Mamillia: A Mirror or Looking-Glass for the Ladies of England, are stamped with the likeness of Euphues.5 In its first pages we learn of the correspondence of the heroine, Mamillia, with the moral Florion. Like Euphues, Florion has been deceived in love and, as a result, has abandoned women. His advice to Mamillia closely resembles Euphues' to Livia. "It is a great virtue," he writes, counseling Mamillia to quit the court, "to abstain from pleasure" (II, 37).6 He warns her of the danger of love, of the fickleness of men, of "the substance of vice with the veil of virtue" (II, 37). She accepts his counsel, retires to her father's home, and bridles her passions with reason.

Such unprodigal docility would have left Lyly and the schoolmaster dramatists with no story to tell. But in Greene's fiction, whatever it may owe to Lyly, no care protects adequately against the perils of love and adverse fortune. Despite her mastery of precept, Mamillia succumbs to a wily deceiver. Greene's story thus suggests a disjunction between precept and experience quite foreign to Euphues. In Lyly's novel passion overturns precept and nature upsets nurture, but, if successfully adhered to, precept and nurture would guard one against the dangers of love. In Greene precept and nurture are equally irrelevant, and virtue, however resolute, provides no defense against vice. Virtue and vice are alike pawns in the hand of all-governing fortune, and in some stories fortune dispenses altogether with the instrument of passion, creating disorder by mere natural accident.

Greene's fiction does not, however, lack order. Vicious passion, though beyond effective human control, always meets with punishment and virtue quite often receives some reward. But, if Greene on occasion provides a happy ending, he rarely allows virtue to bring it about. Virtue remains as passive and powerless in victory as in defeat. The inhuman and impersonal force that does arrange accident into orderly patterns is time. Thus Pandosto is subtitled "The Triumph of Time" and the title page of Menaphon promises that here "are deciphered the variable effects of fortune, the wonders of love, the triumphs of inconstant time." In both stories an oracle guarantees that random fortune will eventually arrange the characters according to a predetermined pattern. In Menaphon the pattern is so obscure that "an old woman attired like a prophetess" comes on for the sole purpose of pointing out that the oracle has been accomplished. Not only are the characters incapable of working out their own happiness, they cannot even recognize it when it has been achieved for them. They are, as Greene often hints, players in a drama whose plot they ignore. In this senseless world where human action has neither significance nor effect, stoic resignation is the prime virtue.

Greene seems, at first at least, unaware of how far he has departed from the humanistic moral tradition which stood behind Euphues. Particularly in the earliest of his works, and occasionally even after, he indulges in didactic reflections wholly inappropriate to an action so completely dominated by fortune. He does, however, acknowledge another departure from the tradition of The Anatomy of Wit and its misogynous forebears. Mamillia openly defends women. It is a work "wherein with perpetual fame the constancy of gentlewomen is canonized and the unjust blasphemies of women's supposed fickleness (breathed out by diverse injurious persons) by manifest examples clearly infringed" (II, 139). Lyly's portrayal of Iffida and Camilla in Euphues and his England may have led the way, but Greene seizes on the theme with the eagerness of a man who has found a cause both popular and suited to the kind of fiction he wanted in any case to write—fiction which prizes the feminine virtue of passive resignation in the face of masculine brutality and the ravages of fortune.

As the women's stock goes up, the men's comes down. The typical villain in Greene is a masculine figure of authority, a father or husband, an elder or ruler. This too sets him against Lyly and the writers of prodigal son plays. In the education drama, in Macropedius and Stymmelius and the English writers prior to Gascoigne, the parents were often guilty, but of excessive kindness rather than cruelty. And one older figure, the schoolmaster or good counselor, was always there to represent true wisdom. Similarly in Lyly the elder generation is both sympathetic and wise. Eubulus, Ferardo, the hermit, Fidus's father, and Lady Flavia all stand for positive values, though from the antiromantic Eubulus to the matchmaking Lady Flavia the character of those values changes markedly. Much the same sympathy attaches to the older people in Mamillia, but in his succeeding work Greene abandons this benevolent view of authority. A conflict between established, but abusive authority and youth soon comes to occupy the dramatic center of his fiction. Greene found this theme first in the Apocrypha, in the story of Susanna and the Elders, which he embellished with the usual Euphuistic ornaments and presented as the Mirror of Modesty (1584), and then in Greek romance and various Italian novelle.7 All three sources taught Greene the art of leading up to an elaborate and often violent confrontation between the figures of authority and their victims. One of his stories ends with the murder of a father by his long-suffering daughter, another with an armed combat between father and son, still a third with a fight between father, grandfather, and son. Pandosto and Menaphon each lead to the attempted rape of a daughter by her father, while the second story of the Planetomachia ends with a father executing his son for sleeping with his stepmother, whom the father had married in opposition to the son's sage advice.

What place can there be in this topsy-turvy world for the gravely moral story of the prodigal son? Greene reverses most of its assumptions. Precept is of no relevance to experience. Action results from either passion or fortune, forces over which the individual exercises no moral control. Woman is exalted and her chief virtue, stoic resignation, which is the opposite of the active, civic virtue championed by the humanists, celebrated. Nor does Greene maintain the humanists' conservative belief in the wise and benevolent order of society. Parents, who in Greene are most often rulers as well, are unjust, tyrannical, even unnatural. Another of the humanists' prime tenets, that nurture is superior to nature, is ignored. Greene rarely mentions nurture. His characters appear on the scene with no hint as to how they became what they are. Only Pandosto and Menaphon describe the process of growing up, and there Fawnia and Pleusidippus are unmistakeably royal despite their rustic environment.

At this point one might ask, "Why bother contrasting these two traditions? Isn't Greene's fiction, with its obvious debts to Greek romance and the Italian novella, simply irrelevant to the didactic pattern of prodigality?" Had Greene been content to leave the two traditions apart, had he been willing not to mix moral profit with romantic pleasure, there would be little reason for our doing so. But he was not. Like Lyly, who hung on to the prodigal son story even in Euphues and his England, Greene found it, if not indispensable, then very nearly so. It embodied a set of attitudes too prevalent to be dismissed. Greene was, as I have suggested, freer than Lyly and could on occasion escape, as he does in Menaphon (1589) to an Arcadian world of the pure aesthetic—an escape sanctioned perhaps by the reputation of Sidney's Arcadia, though probably neither Greene nor his friends had actually read Sidney's still unpublished romance.8 Had they read it, particularly in its first version, they would have found that not even Sidney could quite avoid the moral pattern. But unless they hazarded some such flight into the realm of pure beauty and pure accident, Greene and his contemporaries were stuck with a reality that included the paternal warning of moral consequence. The question for them was not whether to adopt that pattern, but rather, accepting it as given, how either to get around it or to refute it. Greene tries one of these strategies in The Card of Fancy (1584), the other in Pandosto (1588).9

The Card of Fancy begins with the prodigal son story, though modified in accordance with Greene's altered sense of things. The tyrannous Duke Clerophantes of Metelyne has two children, a beautiful and virtuous daughter, Lewcippa, and a son, Gwydonius, handsome and witty but given over to prodigality. Clerophantes remonstrates with his son whose impertinent response echoes Euphues' to Eubulus: "You old men most unjustly, or rather injuriously, measure our stayless mood by your staid minds" (IV, 17). He announces that he plans to leave the court and spend his days in travel. His father, unlike the loving and wise elders of the education drama, rejoices at ridding himself of his troublesome son so easily, and heartily recommends travel as the best way of choosing "what course of life is best to take." One can "buy that by experience which otherwise with all the treasure in the world he cannot puchase" (IV, 19), he says, reversing the opinion of Erasmus and Ascham. He does not, however, let his son go without giving him a lengthy dose of sounder paternal advice—the standard counsel of moderation with which we are by now thoroughly familiar—which he caps with the presentation of a ring having as its posy "praemonitur premunitur," forewarned is forearmed. All this Gwydonius disregards. It does not take long for experience to bring him to repentance. He establishes himself in the city of Barutta where the citizens "noted him for a mirror of immoderate life and a very pattern of witless prodigality" (IV, 24). Made suspicious by his extravagant expenditure, they imprison him. Abandoned by all, he quickly comes around. "Alas (quoth he) now have I bought that by hapless experience which, if I had been wise, I might have got by happy counsel" (IV, 25).

Here then, aside from the obvious unworthiness of the hero's father and the lack of any mention of the son's education, is a prodigal son story of the most conventional sort. We are, however, only on page twenty-five of a two hundred page romance. Before being reconciled to his father, Gwydonius must experience adventures of a very different kind, a brief account of which will serve both as a demonstration of the fraudulence of Greene's humanistic pretentions in this book and as an example of his plot making throughout this early phase of his career. Instead of returning home to beg his father's forgiveness, Gwydonius goes to Alexandria where, thinking him a poor gentleman, the good Duke Orlanio takes him into his service. Orlanio has a daughter, Castania, with whom Gwydonius naturally falls in love. After an almost interminable rhetorical courtship, his affection is returned and they secretly swear their devotion to one another. Meanwhile, "Fortune, minding to bewray her mutability, brought it so to pass" that Orlanio neglected to pay the annual tribute owing to the Duke of Metelyne, Gwydonius' father. The bloodthirsty Clerophantes threatens war, so Orlanio's son Thersandro is sent to Metelyne to negotiate a settlement. The only positive result of his embassy is that he meets and falls in love with Gwydonius's sister. All would now be well were Clerophantes not intent on war, but "he, as a man having exiled from his heart both piety and pity, bathed his hands in guiltless blood" (IV, 173). He marches his troops to the gates of Alexandria where, after an indecisive battle, they decide to settle the war by single combat. The fierce Clerophantes choses to defend his own cause. Orlanio, not being a fighting man, proclaims that he will give any champion who fights victoriously for Alexandria his daughter Castania in marriage and the Duchy of Metelyne, including the annual tribute, as her dowry. Gwydonius, who had fled into exile after his identity was revealed by a rejected suitor of Castania, hears this news and returns to seek to win his love by fighting his father. Disguised in the armor of Thersandro, Gwydonius enters the lists incapacitated by the inward struggle between "love and loyalty, nature and necessity" (IV, 190). Finally, after passively fending off his father's thrusts, he is moved by love to make a single blow with which he unhorses his antagonist. He reveals himself, is embraced by the warring dukes, claims Castania as his bride, and returns the Duchy of Metelyne into the hands of his reformed and repentant father.

The prodigal son episode thus introduces an action very unlike it in character. Rather than sending him repentant back to his father, love prepares Gwydonius to work his father's reform. Disorder comes not from the son, but from the father. While the children make love, their fathers make war. And in the end love triumphs bringing reconciliation and peace. But love, unlike moral precept, is not a rational tool. None of the young people uses it to bring about peace. They are used by it. Even Gwydonius, who in the final scene is aware of the whole situation, undertakes to fight his father with no larger aim than that of winning Castania. Like the characters in Menaphon, these are figures in a formal pattern worked out by fortune and Greene for our entertainment. Two fathers, dukes of adjoining territories, each with a son and a daughter, the sons and daughters paired in loving couples—the symmetry is too neat for a world controlled by anything but an agency beyond rational comprehension. The action thus belies the promise of the title. Greene's fiction is not a card of fancy, an anatomy of love, but an illustration of love's benevolent power. The threatening terms of the title page, "wherein the folly of those carpet knights is deciphered which, guiding their courses by the compass of Cupid, either dash their ship against most dangerous rocks or else attain the haven with pain and peril," ring hollow. There is nothing behind them. After the introductory episode from the tradition of the prodigal son, Greene neglects his moralizing.

The weakness of the Card of Fancy is that the romantic fails to subsume the didactic. The two elements do not come together in any coherent design. The lesson of moderation which Gwydonius presumably learned from his unhappy experience in Barutta is not so much reversed as forgotten. Nor is the conflict of reason and fancy in the second part more than apparent. For Gwydonius the way of love is also the way of prudence, and he knows it. Castania is not only beautiful, but rich and well-born. The bar which separates them, Gwydonius's base estate, is the meretricious instrument of the plot. At any time before the outbreak of hostilities between their fathers, he could reveal his true identity, making him her equal and a prudent match. In Barutta he wasted not his inheritance, but only his spending money. That he, the heir to the Duchy of Metelyne, should despair at great length and with much eloquence that "my ambition [is] above my condition" is nonsense. It takes from the rhetoric any but a pretense of meaning, reducing it to mere ornamentation.

In Pandosto Greene does successfully join in a single romantic vision a similar story of quarrelling parents and loving children with material from the didactic tradition. Like the Card of Fancy, Pandosto consists of two episodes that might have been told as separate stories. But though one is tragic, and the other comic, the two episodes inhabit the same moral universe. In both can be found the typical characteristics of Greene's fiction. A passion beyond the control of reason motivates the action of each part, and time, rather than any human agent, resolves the conflicts. Each part presents the persecution of innocent and helpless virtue by abusive authority, and in each a patiently suffering woman represents moral excellence. And here Greene allows the prodigal son motif, which he weaves into the second part, no independent admonitory life. It expresses not the usual humanistic morality, but the triumph of love.

Greene achieves his romantic remaking of the prodigal son story, much as Lyly did in Euphues and his England, by discovering a rightness in the passionate desires of youth; but his pastoralism better represents the abandonment of identity which inescapably accompanies rebellion than does Lyly's courtliness, and his protagonist is ethically more serious than Philautus. Dorastus does reject his father's advice—in this case that he avoid the folly of youth by marrying a princess of the father's choosing—but he rejects it unwillingly. Neither a hapless dupe, like so many of the prodigals in the education drama, nor an open and insolent rebel, like Euphues, Dorastus finds, despite himself, "that he could not yield to that passion whereto both reason and his father persuaded him" (IV, 273–274). And when he meets and falls in love with the seeming shepherdess, Fawnia, he is no less troubled. "Cursing love that had wrought such a change and blaming the baseness of his mind that would make such a choice," his whole rational and moral being cries out against loving one so far beneath him.

Euphistic fiction is known for its exercises in the rhetoric of the divided mind, but Pandosto is almost alone in making the conflict dramatically convincing. Here we don't feel, as we usually do both in Lyly and elsewhere in Greene, that the character merely reads a leaf torn from the author's commonplace book. The minds and affections of the Euphuists were, I think, divided, but none depicted the division as well as Greene. In Dorastus, love opposes not a collection of glib platitudes, but the very structure of his conscious being. Unlike Gwydonius, Dorastus has no reason to suspect the essential prudence of love. He does not know that Fawnia is a princess, nor does she. In giving himself over to fancy, he thus sacrifices his sense of himself, and Greene makes us feel something of the agony of that sacrifice.

Pastoral provided Greene an image of the deprivation of identity. To win Fawnia, Dorastus must abandon the outward signs of his rank and assume the dress of a shepherd. But, unlike the usual prodigal, who changes in appearance, as in mind, without realizing it, Dorastus constantly suffers from the impropriety of his new guise. "Thou keepest a right decorum," he tells himself, "base desires and homely attires. Thy thoughts are fit for none but a shepherd, and thy apparel such as only become a shepherd" (IV, 287). He judges himself just as his father would, for his values and his father's are identical. But the story itself takes a larger and more tolerant view, allowing, and even celebrating, Dorastus' unfilial abnegation of identity.

Refusing to distinguish between culpable lust and innocent love, the more conservative humanists regarded metamorphosis as a Circean retribution that necessarily followed the surrender of one's will to fancy, an inescapable descent toward bestiality. Greene was to adopt a similarly punitive notion in Alcida (1589), making it one of the earliest evidences of his attempt to reassert moral respectability. In Pandosto, however, and in the other works most directly influenced by the pastoral tradition, he expressed a quite different attitude toward the transforming power of love. Most simply, his idea is that in losing oneself, in giving oneself up to the sway of passion, one finds oneself more fully than ever before. Ciceronis Amor, published a year after Pandosto, illustrates the conceit most fully.10 In a valley "most curiously decked with Flora's delicates," a place known to shepherds as "the vale of love," Fabius, the foolish son of a Roman senator, is transformed from his doltish ways by the sight of the heavenly beauty of Terentia. He returns to Rome and devotes himself to learning, soon becoming "expert in all gentle and manlike exercise." Greene explains this sudden alteration:

The high virtues of the heavens infused into this noble breast were imprisoned by the envious wrath of fortune within some narrow corner of his heart, whose bands, went asunder by love, as a lord too mighty for fortune, Cupid, the raiser up of sleepy thoughts, dispersed those virtues into every part of his mind obscured before with the eclipse of base thoughts. Let us then think of love as of the most purest passion that is inserted into the heart of man.

(VII, 188–189)

In Pandosto love likewise opposes fortune, which had concealed Fawnia's royal nature just as it had Fabius' "high virtues," and love effects Dorastus' passage from filial dependence to autonomy in adult society.

Success is not, however, immediate. Symbolic rejection of identity leads first to the loss of property and freedom, as the disguised Dorastus is imprisoned by Pandosto. Like all his prodigal forebears reduced to similar straits, he recalls his father's advice. "But poor Dorastus lay all this while in close prison … sorrowing sometimes that his fond affection had procured him this mishap, that by the disobedience of his parents he had wrought his own despite" (IV, 308–309). Nevertheless, he does not repent. And the story soon rewards his tenacious rebellion with liberty, a bride, and a kingdom, revealing that the intuition of his love was truer than the prudent wisdom of his father.

Thus in Pandosto Greene rights the argument of comedy set on its head by the schoolmaster dramatists, though he does it without abandoning their favorite story. The initial scene of paternal advice, the rejection of that advice, the surrender to love, the loss of goods and position, the recollection in suffering of the father's counsel, all this Pandosto shares with the didactic tradition. But the lesson of Pandosto is that the pattern of loss should be neither avoided nor repented. However painful, it is a necessary rite of passage, a way from childhood to maturity, from one stable identity to another. Pandosto, who unlike Dorastus, had "resisted in youth," pays the price by yielding in age to jealousy and incestuous lust, passions of an unconfirmed self. Though Greene leaves this insight unexplored, and thus later inaccessible to reason when it might have served to defend romance, he does seem intuitively aware of passion's place in the temporal scheme of a man's life. It is in something like this developmental sense that we can best understand the subtitle of Pandosto, "the triumph of time." Where the humanists had hoped to annul time, through repentance if necessary, making son's time and father's time the same, Greene allows their essential difference, which is not to say that he entertained an idea of progress, of sons bettering their fathers. Once the pattern of son's time is played out, the son becomes like his father. Youthful rebellion restores a fundamentally stable and unchanging society.

To allow rebellion even so much went against the grain of humanistic admonition. But when Greene wrote Pandosto in the mid 1580's, a quarter century of relative social tranquillity had taken some of the edge off those warnings. To Greene and his fellows the world looked considerably less dangerous than it had to their fathers. But with the renewal of military and religious conflict in the last years of the decade, the forces of moral right thinking reasserted themselves and brought Greene to repentance.

The central conflict of Pandosto, the conflict between reason and folly, faced Greene as a writer of prose fiction. Was he to write for profit or for pleasure? Dorastus' lament at discovering that he loved a shepherdess must have been the cri du coeur of many of Greene's contemporaries who found themselves unable to reconcile their humanistic morality with their desire to read and to write romantic tales which violated that morality in every way. "Thy thoughts cannot be uttered without shame nor thy affections without discredit" is a sentiment that echoed in them as they wrote defensive prefaces to tales they suspected indefensible.

Romance is the subconscious of Renaissance story telling. It was harshly repressed by the mid-century moralists. Ascham attacked both chivalric romance and the newer Italian novella, which first appeared in England in the translations of Painter and Fenton as the Schoolmaster was being written. "What toys the daily reading of such a book [as the Morte Arthur] may work in the will of a young gentleman or a young maid that liveth wealthily and idly, wise men can judge and honest men do pity. And yet ten Morte Darthurs do not the tenth part so much harm as one of these books made in Italy and translated in England."11

But romance could not be eliminated. Romantic tales were told, perhaps with a sense of guilt, but they were told nevertheless. The men who told them were obviously embarrassed. They sought to justify their liberation of those narrative forces which in the less troubled England of Elizabeth's reign could no longer be repressed, but with little success. The only conceptual frame readily available to them, as to Dorastus in his perplexity, was the humanists' own morality which distinguished so sharply between rational virtue and irrational vice. Against such a standard, these stories could only be judged vicious. The natural defense of them, the one adopted by Painter, Gascoigne, and Pettie, was that they might serve as negative examples—as warnings against the vice they portray. Ascham's analysis would have made short work of such an argument. A story, unlike a book of doctrine, acts not on the mind, which might be protected by reason, but directly on the will.

Where will inclineth to goodness the mind is bent to truth; where will is carried from goodness to vanity the mind is soon drawn from truth to false opinion. And so the readiest way to entangle the mind with false doctrine is first to entice the will to wanton living. Therefore, when the busy and open papists abroad could not by their contentious books turn men in England fast enough from truth and right judgment in doctrine, then the subtle and secret papists at home procured bawdy books to be translated out of the Italian tongue, whereby overmany young wills and wits, allured to wantonness, do now boldly condemn all severe books that sound to honesty and godliness. (P. 68)

Other writers, perhaps more honest than those who claimed moral profit for their stories, but no less ill at ease, flaunted the want of didactic use which characterized the tales they told. There is something of this bravado in Painter and Pettie's titles; they proclaim their works palaces of pleasure. The bravado is still more evident in Barnaby Rich's defense of his Farewell to Military Profession. "For mine own excuse herein I answer that in the writing of [these stories] I have used the same manner that many of our young gentlemen useth nowadays in the wearing of their apparel—which is rather to follow a fashion that is new, be it never so foolish, than to be tied to a more decent custom that is clean out of use." Rich goes on to satirize foolish fashions in apparel, obliquely satirizing at the same time his own fashion of writing. He can ward off criticism only by admitting himself, if not a villain, at least a fool. What Rich counts on, and what none of the other writers doubts, is that this sort of story will give pleasure.12

Following fashion, Greene moves from the first of these positions to the second. He begins by advertising his love pamphlets as warnings against love. Mamillia teaches "how gentlemen under the perfect substance of pure love are oft inveigled with the shadow of lewd lust" (II, 3). Gwydonius is a "card of fancy." The Planetomachia (1585) discovers "the inward affections of the mind … painting them out in such perfect colors as youth may perceive what fond fancies their flourishing years do foster" (V, 3). But with Perimedes the Blacksmith (1588) there is a new note; the profit becomes an adjunct of the pleasure. Perimedes teaches how to pass the time pleasantly telling stories, "how best to spend the weary winter's nights, or the longest summer's evenings in honest and delightful recreation" (VII, 3). Pandosto and Menaphon are presented as mere illustrations of the power of time and fortune. A marked decrease in the amount of moral reflection scattered through the story accompanies this change in Greene's announced intention. The decrease begins as early as the Card of Fancy, continues in Perimedes, and culminates in Pandosto and Menaphon, where authorial precept disappears entirely. And along with the waning of didacticism goes a falling off in the number of typically Euphuistic figures. In Gwydonius Lyly's rhetoric is still the constant vehicle of meditation and dialogue, but Pandosto adopts it only as an occasional decoration, and Menaphon explicitly announces its demise. As Henry Upchear wrote in praise of Menaphon,

It was not only Lyly's rhetoric but his kind of fiction, the didactic story in which ideas were more important than action, which had gone out of style.

In 1589, the appearance of Thomas Nashe's Anatomy of Absurdity, following on the sobering scare of the Armada, signaled another change in fashion. Nashe's Anatomy is first a satire on women and those who praise them, "a brief confutation of the slender imputed praises to feminine perfection." It is next an attack on the authors of romantic fiction. "Are they not ashamed in their prefixed posies to adorn a pretence of profit mixed with pleasure, whenas in their books there is scarce to be found one precept pertaining to virtue, but whole quires fraught with amorous discourses, kindling Venus's flame in Vulcan's forge, carrying Cupid in triumph, alluring even vowed vestals to tread awry, enchanting chaste minds and corrupting the continentest."13 It is hard not to see Greene in this image of absurdity. He was the self-proclaimed champion of women and the most prolific author of love pamphlets of the decade. That Nashe was no contemptible precisian, but a graduate of Greene's own college, St. John's, Cambridge (which years before had also been Ascham's college), and a fellow university wit in London (Nashe had written a preface to Menaphon) only makes it more likely that his satire represented a segment of fashionable opinion which Greene would respect.

Even had Greene been less a slave to fashion, Nashe's criticism is of a sort that he was unprepared to ward off. Though he had been successful, particularly in Pandosto, in creating a fiction which might dispute the claims of the moralists, he was not able to conceptualize his defense of love. He came closest to doing so, as we have seen, in the episode of Fabius's transformation by love in Ciceronis Amor. The Neoplatonism that there and elsewhere provides an occasional idea was not, however, maintained consistently. Herschel Baker, writing of the use made of Neoplatonic doctrine in the Renaissance, has said that, "as a Neoplatonist, one could revel in the sensuous beauty of the physical world and all the while have as his ultimate goal the beauty and virtue of the spirit."14 This worked for Greene only so long as he was able to divorce his fiction from the claims of utile. Neoplatonism could never compete as a rationally defensible moral system. Nor could it, in fact, have been easily made to fit the reality of Greene's fiction. In some stories, like Gwydonius or Pandosto, love is successful; but in many others it is unfortunate and even tragic, fully justifying its condemnation. And even those where it succeeds contain counterevidence. Gwydonius is successful in love, but Valericus, Castania's rejected suitor, is not. In Pandosto both Dorastus and Pandosto love Fawnia. Both condemn their love and in much the same terms, as opposed to virtue and honor. Yet Dorastus' love is an inspired intuition that leads to a match more ideally suitable than even the wholly reasonable one suggested by his father; Pandosto's love is, on the other hand, a damnably incestuous lust which drags him down to despair and suicide. Is love a blessing or a curse? It can be either and so can be embraced by no rational system of ethics.

Thus, once subjected to criticism, repentance became inevitable for Greene. It began with a wavering repudiation of his defense of women. His Alcida, registered December 9, 1588, several months before the publication of the Anatomy of Absurdity, exposes the three cardinal vices of women—pride, inconstancy, and prattle—vices which oppose the three virtues illustrated in the earlier Penelope's Web—obedience, chastity, and silence.15 But Ciceronis Amor and Menaphon, neither of which contain any trace of this fugitive misogynism, quickly succeeded these pallid and unconvincing stories. Greene took a more definite step in his Orpharion (registered February 9, 1590).

The title page announces that Orpharion contains "the glorious praise of womankind," and so it does. But it also contains a satire on women. The narrator has been travelling from one of Venus' shrines to another seeking a remedy for love. "I heard many counsels and read many precepts but all in vain" (XII, 14). Finally, on the slope of Mt. Erecinus he is granted a dream vision of the mansion of the gods. There the immortals are involved in a dispute over the value of love. To aid them in their determinations they call Orpheus and Arion up from Hades. The two poets disagree. Orpheus attacks love and tells a story intended to prove the distructive pride of women. Arion answers, defending his praise of women with the story of the chaste Argentina. Mercury reasonably suggests that the true nature of woman is a mean between these extremes. The vision has, however, a less ambiguous effect on the narrator. "Calling to mind the occasion of my journey, I found that either I had lost love, or love lost me, for my passions were eased. I left Erecinus and hasted away as fast as I could, glad that one dream had rid me of fancy, which so long had fettered me" (XII, 94). So far as the narrator is concerned, Orpheus' misogynous arguments have carried the day….

Repentance for Greene means turning back to the self, a self defined by biblical fable and humanistic morality. It means too repudiating romance with its image of another self and its toleration of women, love, and folly. Metamorphosis is again only destructive. The courtesans in the Mourning Garment are Circes; they "turn vain glorious fools into asses, gluttonous fools into swine, pleasant fools into apes, proud fools into peacocks, and, when they have done, with a great whip scourge them out at doors" (IX, 163–164). Any deviation from reason, from the received rules of conservative morality, can lead only to inner and outer loss, a descent into bestiality. So at least Greene would now have us believe.

There is no doubt that the milieu in which these stories exist is thoroughly moralized. The title pages, dedications, addresses to the reader, and authorial intrusions all speak with one voice. But, when we look more closely, we discover a hesitancy in Greene's repentance. Even he confesses that these reformed works are to be classed with his "amorous pamphlets." At the end of Never Too Late he writes, "And therefore, as soon as may be, Gentlemen, look for Francesco's further fortunes and after that my Farewell to Folly, then adieu to all amorous pamphlets" (VIII, 109). He calls the Mourning Garment "the first of my reformed passions" and "the last of my trifling pamphlets" (IX, 222). Again, a year later, he writes in his Farewell to Folly (1591) that "it is the last I mean ever to publish of such superficial labors" (IX, 229)—and so it was. But this lingering farewell suggests that, though he might introduce a moral commentary and might reform the story of the prodigal son, his basic romantic conception of fiction resisted change.

In Orpharion the love-forsaken narrator responds onesidedly to the stories he hears. Arion's praise of women might as well have convinced him as Orpheus' blame. And it is rather Orpheus' tale, based on the Orlando Furioso, than Arion's which derives from the romance tradition.18 Arion's tale, as René Pruvost has remarked, "participe à la fois du fabliau et de l'exemplum" (p. 326). The narrator is thus reformed by a romantic, if somewhat misogynous, tale and not by a more obviously didactic one. Something of the same anomaly can be observed in Greene's Vision. On close examination the Vision appears as much a covert defense of Greene's earlier work as a repentance for it. Chaucer's tale is, the narrator informs us, just the sort of thing found in the much abused Cobbler of Canterbury. It is not at all like what Greene wrote. It is a fabliau, Greene's first. Gower's tale is, on the other hand, just what we have come to expect from Greene. It closely resembles his two earlier tales of jealousy, Pandosto and Philomela not only in its narrative style, but in its presentation of the heroine as inflexibly chaste and loyal despite the insane suspicion of her husband. In preferring Gower over Chaucer, Greene is not so much rejecting the folly of his youth as preferring the kind of story he had always written over the kind to which he was to turn in his cony-catching pamphlets.

The other works of this "repentance group" show much the same inconsistency. The tale of Francesco's prodigality, on which the palmer bases most of his didactic commentary, is only one of four loosely related stories included in Never Too Late and its sequel, Francesco's Fortunes. The others could hardly be used as evidence for the same moral lesson. There is first the thoroughly romantic story of the love of Francesco and Isabel. When their reasonable and prudent passion is opposed by her tyrannical father, they elope in the dead of night. They are pursued, harassed, and Francesco is imprisoned; but true love finally triumphs. There is also the story of Isabel's heroic defense of her virtue, a word for word retelling of Greene's version of Susanna and the Elders from the Mirror of Modesty. There is finally the host's tale which, with its heroine's rejection of all three of her suitors, might be considered misogynous, but the point is never made. It is told solely for pleasure. And even the biblical Mourning Garment contains the pastoral tale of Rosamond, the virtuous shepherdess betrayed by a fickle shepherd.

Despite some remarkable surface changes, the romantic current of Greene's fiction flows unchecked, and repentance had always been part of that current, though before it had involved neither Greene nor the writing of fiction. With the exception of Maedyna in Ulysses' tale in the Censure to Philautus, Greene's female characters persist in either good or evil. But from the first his men have been subject to repentance. Pharicles in Mamillia repents for fear of exposure; Gwydonius in the Card of Fancy and Phillippo in Philomela repent as the result of a legal judgment of their guilt; Saladyne of Egypt and Calamus of Ithaca in the first and second tales of Penelope's Web repent because of a woman's virtue; King Psamnetichus in Saturn's tragedy in the Planetomachia and Pandosto repent and commit suicide when they discover the full implications of their lust. In the pattern of Greene's fiction repentance is to time as passion is to fortune. Fortune brings disorder, usually with the aid of passion, and time restores order, usually with the aid of repentance. Tragedy occurs when passion is not converted by repentance (Venus's tragedy in the Planetomachia), or when repentance comes too late (Arbasto, Saturn's tragedy, Pandosto).

Maxims repeated throughout Greene's fiction warn that folly can end only in repentance. "He which is rash without reason seldom or never sleepeth without repentance" (Card of Fancy, IV, 77). "Better it is for a time with sorrow to prevent dangers than to buy fading pleasure with repentance" (Planetomachia, V, 58). Virtue buys "fame with honor," beauty breeds "a kind of delight but with repentance" (Penelope's Web, V, 139). The shepherd Menaphon sang of love,

Tis not sweet
That is sweet
Nowhere but where repentance grows.
(VI, 41)

And in the same work the narrator breaks in to give his opinion that love leaves "behind naught but repentant thoughts of days ill spent for that which profits naught" (VI, 140). This seeming inevitability is abrogated only for the few lucky young lovers whose passion leads to a prudent marriage—Gwydonius and Castania, Dorastus and Fawnia, and a handful of others. In the "repentance group" these exceptions become rare indeed, perhaps the only one being Francesco and Isabel in the first episode of Never Too Late—and Francesco's subsequent folly partially blights even their success.

Although repentance may at first seem a meaningful choice in a world where one has little control over one's destiny, there are increasingly prominent hints that it too, like love, jealousy, and the accidents of fortune, may be no more than a figure in the formal pattern that governs a man's life. The narrator of Orpharion concludes with the telltale remark, "I was overtaken with repentance" (XII, 94). In the early pages of the book he had reported seeing the temple of love where men entered rejoicing and left repenting. This is no longer a warning; it is a statement of fact, a fact which "overtakes" him at the end of the book. The poem which the palmer leaves with his listeners in Francesco's Fortunes suggests the same inevitability. It compares the course of love to the course of the sun passing through the zodiac. Love is a natural cycle, from youth to age, from folly to repentance.

What emerges is a determinist interpretation of prodigality and repentance like that of Acolastus, a play intended to illustrate the Lutheran notion of grace. Greene's work lacks this theological base, but in explaining his own repentances Greene does move toward radical Protestantism.19 His literary repentance was the child of fashion, and his personal repentance the work of God. In both he was merely a passive object. His long persistence in the folly of romantic storytelling he blames on the leniency of his readers. "Because that gentlemen have passed over my works with silence and have rid me without a spur, I have … plodded forward and set forth many pamphlets, full of much love and little scholarism" (IX, 221). One thinks of Calvin's image of man as a horse ridden by either God or the Devil and powerless to choose which.20 As for the personal repentance, it came, he tells us, only in his final illness when God got into the saddle. "I was checked by the mighty hand of God, for sickness (the messenger of death) attacked me and told me my time was but short" (XII, 164). The thought that his life has shown no marks of God's predestined favor brings him to the edge of despair. Others "were elected and predestined to be chosen vessels of God's glory, and therefore though they did fall, yet they rose again, and did show it in time with some other fruits of their election" (XII, 169). But then, recalling God's promise of forgiveness to those who repent, he feels the movement of grace within him. "Thus," he concludes, "may you see how God hath secret to himself the times of calling, and when he will have them into his vineyard; some he calls in the morning, some at noon, and some in the evening, and yet hath the last his wages as well as the first, for as his judgments are inscrutable, so are his mercies incomprehensible" (XII, 180).

The inscrutable and incomprehensible world of this Calvinist God differs little from the world of Greene's romantic fiction with its accidents of fortune and its sudden reversals. In neither, strictly conceived, can precept have any force because the individual has no power to choose his destiny. Yet Greene continues to hope that the example of folly punished with guilt and repentance will keep others from following the like course. He admits that "it is bootless for me to make any long discourse to such as are graceless as I have been" and that "to such as God hath in his secret council elected, few words will suffice," but, he continues, "let my repentant end be a general example to all the youth in England to obey their parents, to fly whore-dom, drunkenness, swearing, blasphemy, contempt of the Word, and such grievous and gross sins" (XII, 179–180).

From our point of view, particularly given our acquaintance with a number of Greene's contemporaries, the paradox of an attachment to two seemingly irreconcilable views, the romantic and finally Calvinist view of an inscrutable world governed by forces unknowable to man and the humanistic view of a rational world in which man might govern himself by precept and example, is too easily resolved. Precept has bred its own necessity. What began as a warning of the folly of youth and the need for repentance soon becomes a description of the inevitable course of human existence. Repentance is the acceptance of this inevitability in one's own life. For nearly a decade Greene's heroes had heard the voice of their conscience warning that folly leads to repentance. For some it did. But for others, most notably Dorastus in Pandosto, apparent folly was revealed as a higher wisdom. The moral pattern was, however, too strong to be long resisted. At the first touch of the spur, Greene repented his literary folly and retold the prodigal's story in accordance with the pattern of defeat. In the Groatsworth of Wit he breaks off the tale of the prodigal Roberto to confess that it mirrors his own life.21 And in the Repentance he tells his life as a prodigal son story, from his disregard of his parents' "wholesome advertisements," through the excesses of his life in London, to his final, inevitable repentance.

The works that followed Greene's literary repentance were also part of the pattern. From prodigality, through repentance, to the service of mankind. Like Euphues, Greene becomes a satiric Eubulus. In his cony-catching pamphlets, his Quip for an Upstart Courtier, and his Groatsworth of Wit, he exposes the follies and vices which he came to know as a prodigal. Or so he claims. In fact, these works are for the most part catchpenny collections of jest book tales of a very conventional sort. But this only makes it more significant that he should have chosen to subsume them under the pattern of repentant prodigality. It was the one model which all experience, however varied, must eventually be made to fit.


1Foure Letters and Certeine Sonnets, Especially Touching Robert Greene, ed. G. B. Harrison (1922–1926; rpt. New York, 1966), pp. 20–21.

2The Life and Complete Works of Robert Greene, ed. Alexander B. Grosart, 15 vols. (1881–1883; rpt. New York, 1964), XII, 155–156. Subsequent references to this edition will appear in the text.

3 Quoted by John Clark Jordan, Robert Greene (1915; rpt. New York, 1965), pp. 2–3.

4New York Review of Books, 10 (23 May 1968), 22.

5 Jaroslav Hornát, "Mamillia: Robert Greene's Controversy with Euphues," Philologica Pragensia, 5 (1962), 210–218.

6 Cf. Euphues: "They say to abstain from pleasure is the chiefest piety" (Ed. Croll and Clemons, p. 180). See also p. 65, above.

7 For Greene's use of Greek romance see Samuel L. Wolff, Greek Romances in Elizabethan Fiction (New York, 1912), pp. 367–458. René Pruvost discusses each of Greene's fictions in terms of its probable sources and closest analogues in his Robert Greene et ses romans (Paris, 1938).

8 See my "Lyly, Greene, Sidney, and Barnaby Rich's Brusanus," HLQ, [Huntington Library Quarterly] 36 (1972/73), 110 n. 9.

9 Though 1588 is the date of the earliest surviving edition of Pandosto, the book may have been written and published as much as four years earlier. An inventory of Roger Ward's Shrewsbury print shop, made in December 1584 or January 1585, includes among its entries "i9 Triumphe of time." There is good reason for identifying this as Pandosto: The Triumph of Time. The Short-Title Catalogue lists no other "Triumph of Time," and we do know that Ward had dealings with Greene. Included in his stock were "i Antomy [sic] of fortune" and "7 mirror of modestie"—i.e., one copy of Greene's Arbasto: The Anatomy of Fortune and seven copies of his Mirror of Modesty, both published in 1584, the Mirror by Ward himself. I am kept, however, from adopting this earlier date by the fact that Pandosto shares a number of passages with Greene's Euphues his Censure to Philautus (1587), and the debt seems to be on Pandosto's side. I suspect that only a careful reconsideration of the whole Greene canon, with particular attention given to self-plagiarism and plagiarism from other authors, will allow us to reconcile these contradictory bits of evidence. Until such a reconsideration has been completed, I think it prudent to date Pandosto 1588. For the Ward inventory, see Alexander Rodger, "Roger Ward's Shrewsbury Stock: an Inventory of 1585," The Library, 5th Ser., 13 (1958), 247–268.

10 Walter Davis discusses the passage from Ciceronis Amor relating it to other pastoral romances (Idea and Act, pp. 76–78). Davis (pp. 78–79) seems, however, to underestimate the pastoral element of Pandosto.

11Schoolmaster, ed. Ryan, p. 69.

12Rich's Farewell to Military Profession, ed. Thomas Mabry Cranfill (Austin, 1959), p. 204. Pettie (Petite Palace, ed. Hartman, p. 6) and Sidney (Prose Works, ed. Feuillerat, I, 4) also employ the self-depreciatory comparison of fiction and fashion. Another way of disarming critics common to Pettie, Lyly, Greene, and Sidney is to address one's work to gentlewomen readers—a simple way of announcing that one is dealing in trifles. A third possible line of defense which seems not to have occurred to Greene or to the translators of the novelle is to claim that the story conceals a moral allegory. This will be Harington's main argument in defending the Orlando Furioso (1591).

13The Works of Thomas Nashe, ed. R. B. McKerrow, 5 vols. (1904; rev. and rpt. Oxford, 1958), I, 10.

14 Baker, The Image of Man (1947; rpt. New York, 1961), p. 248.

15 Pruvost (p. 323) suggests that Greene may have seen Nashe's satire in MS. This is plausible, but not necessary for my argument. Greene may already have been worrying about his reputation before Nashe further endangered it….

18 Samuel L. Wolff, "Robert Greene and the Italian Renaissance," Englische Studien, 37 (1907), 346 n. 1.

19 This despite Greene's known distaste for the English Puritans. For a discussion of his part in the Marprelate Controversy see E. H. Miller, "The Relationship of Robert Greene and Thomas Nashe (1588–1592)," PQ, [Philological Quarterly] 33 (1954), 353–367.

20Institution de la Religion Chrétienne, II, iv, 1. Calvin attributes the image to Augustine.

21 Recent suggestions that Chettle rather than Greene wrote the Groatsworth of Wit, even if true, do not seriously trouble my argument. Chettle would only have been giving further expression to an identification that Greene had established in a number of earlier works, works of unquestioned authorship, between himself and his prodigal protagonists. For a summary of the relevant bibliography, see Shakespeare Newsletter, 26 (1974), 47.

Constance C. Relihan (essay date 1990)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3754

SOURCE: "The Narrative Strategies of Robert Greene's Cony-Catching Pamphlets," in Cahiers Élisabéthains, No. 37, April, 1990, pp. 9–16.

[In the following essay, Relihan discusses the significance of the complex narrative approach of The Defence of Conny-Catching.]

In 1591 and 1592, Robert Greene published a series of pamphlets which purported to expose criminal life in London. These cony-catching pamphlets have long been considered an interesting source of information about London life both by critics who stress Greene's familiarity with the kind of life the pamphlets describe, and by those critics who stress the tradition of criminal and rogue literature which precedes Greene's work.1 What I would like to discuss here is not the relation of these pamphlets to any reality Greene may have witnessed, or their relation to John Awdeley's The Fraternity of Vagabonds or any other earlier work of rogue literature,2 (Lawlis 396) for it seems to me that the connections to both are relatively clear and straightforward. What I would like to do instead is to examine the voice which presents those stories of cony-catching to us, for it seems to me that the use of narrative voice (or voices) in these pamphlets creates a complex and critical web of responses to the material Greene presents; responses which are more complicated than the implications of G. R. Hibbard's generally apt assessment that Greene "writes from the point of view of the citizen, but he does not like him" (15–16). Paul Salzman's discussion, in Elizabethan Prose Fiction: A Critical History, of Greene's "ambivalent moral stance" (206) in the pamphlets seems to be heading into a more accurate analysis of the narrative voice, but still, the emphasis on morality in Salzman and other critics seems to be analyzing these pamphlets in relation to the 'truth' they contain: it seems to suggest a desire to analyze these works as if they are factual instead of fiction.3

Of course, the narrative approaches used in the cony-catching pamphlets vary considerably. A Disputation betweene a Hee Conny-catcher and a Shee Conny-catcher (1592), for instance, is presented primarily in the form of a dialogue between two criminals, Nan and Lawrence, who discuss whether female or male criminals are more dangerous to England's stability. In this work the narrative voice which seems to dominate most of the other pamphlets is replaced by those two characters, and only occasionally does "Greene's" voice enter to guide the reader's perceptions of the debate.4The Blacke Bookes Messenger presents a narrative entirely given to us by "Ned Browne," a character who tells the story of his criminal life in the monents before he is executed. The other undisputed pamphlets in this series (A Notable Discovery of Coosnage [1591], The Second Part of Conny-catching [1591], and The Thirde and Last Parte of Conny-catching [1591]), all essentially possess the same narrative structure: abuses and crimes are described, criminal terminology is defined, and brief stories which dramatize specific crimes are told by a unifying first-person male narrative voice. The sixth pamphlet in Greene's series, The Defence of Conny-catching (1592) is allegedly written by one Cuthbert Cunny-catcher, Licentiate in Whittington Colledge (XI, 41), who follows essentially the same narrative structure as the majority of the previous pamphlets, but whose purpose is to criticize Greene for having wasted his time detailing what are insignificant crimes (pickpocketing, linen stealing, purse cutting, etc.) when there are so many more serious crimes, such as usury, to condemn. Grosart included the Defence in his complete works of Greene although he did not believe the work actually by Greene (40), and there has been much dispute about its authorship.5

The fact that the Defence condemns Greene's works seems to have been enough to cause Grosart to accept uncritically its expressed authorship by Cuthbert Cunny-catcher, but it should not have: the attitude expressed in it toward Greene's works is entirely in keeping with what I perceive to be the overriding narrative intent of the series of pamphlets as a whole. The Defence, like the other cony-catching pamphlets is not designed to ridicule social problems or prompt social change. Instead, its objective is to represent "Robert Greene." Greene himself becomes the protagonist of this series of pamphlets, and the crimes he and his characters condemn are merely the means by which Greene attempts to tell his story. Secondarily, his presentation of criminal tales as fact is an attempt to gain authority for his art: by asserting the truth of what he writes, his art ceases to be mere entertainment provided we assume 'mere entertainment' to be a viable category) and becomes worthy of his reader's attention.

The Defence is in many ways the most indicative of this trend in the pamphlets for the simple reason that Greene 'himself' is not present in the text to try to obscure our focus on him. That statement may sound a bit contradictory, but the presence of Greene as the narrator in the other pamphlets serves to focus our attention onto the crimes he describes and the stories he tells: we see him not as character but as narrator. Only occasionally in those pamphlets does Greene let the focus of his writing overtly shift to himself. In the Defence on the other hand, Cuthbert absorbs the narrative function and allows us to focus on Greene as a writer and alleged social critic while Cuthbert ridicules him. The Defence begins thus:

I cannot but wonder Maister R. G. what Poeticall fury made you so fantasticke, to wryte against Conny-catchers? Was your braine so barraine that you had no other subiect? or your wittes so dried with dreaming of loue Pamphlettes, that you had no other humour left, but satirically with Diogenes, to snarle at all mens manners: You neuer founde in Tully nor Aristotle, what a setter or a verser was.

It had been the part of a Scholler, to haue written seriously of some graue subiect, either Philosophically to haue shewen how you were proficient in Cambridge, or diuinely to haue manifested your religion to the world. Such triuiall trinkets and threedbare trash, had better seemed T.D. [Thomas Deloney (Grosart XI, 303)] whose braines beaten to the yarking vp of Ballades, might more lawfully haue glaunst at the quaint conceites of conny-catching and crossebiting. (XI, 49)

The vein in which Cuthbert begins here, that describing setters and versers (two kinds of criminals described in earlier pamphlets) is indicative of some kind of intellectual weakness on Greene's part, continues throughout the pamphlet. As Cuthbert turns his attention to describing more serious crimes than Greene discussed, he frequently addresses Greene in tones of contempt: for example, Is not this [usury] coossenage and Conny-catching Maister R. G and more daily practised in England, and more hurtful then our poore shifting of Cardes, and yet your mashippe can winke at the cause? (XI, 54); And are not these [brokers] ground Conny catchers Maister R. G. ? (XI, 78); and, How like you of this conny-catching [bigamy] M. R. G? (XI, 94). The tone of these comments is unmistakable: Greene is to be condemned for focusing on minor crimes and ignoring those that Cuthbert deems more significant. Yet, if Greene is seen as the writer of the Defence, then these criticisms must serve a different purpose than simply to provide social commentary. If Greene felt the need to expand his scope, why not widen his net in another pamphlet written as himself?

The Defence seems to expand the focus on Greene, a focus which had been seen briefly in other of the pamphlets. Had Greene simply written another pamphlet in his own voice which condemned usury and bigamy, his own role in the pamphlets and his relation to the world he describes would not have been emphasized. In The Blacke Booke's Messenger and A Disputation betweene a Hee Conny-catcher and a Shee Conny-catcher, other narrative voices had been heard, but with similar results: attention became fixed not on the condemned Ned Brown who narrates with a halter about his necke ready to be hanged (XI, 6) or on Nan and Laurence, but on Greene himself.6

Greene prefaces The Blacke Bookes Messenger with a list of criminal slang terms which have been lately deuised by Ned Browne and his associates, to Crosbite the old Phrases vsed in the manner of Connycatching (XI, 7). This list of terms is a veiled reference to Greene's previous pamphlets, especially A Notable Discovery of Coosnage and The Second Part of Conny-catching, which had gone to great pains to define criminal terms and techniques for their readers. Ned Browne's list of new terms which should crossbite (or deceive) the users of the old slang, is a way for Greene to emphasize the supposed impact of his pamphlets. Because the terms defined in the earlier pamphlets have become so well known to the common Londoner, criminals such as Ned Browne have been compelled to devise new terms to continue to maintain their air of secrecy.

A Disputation betweene a Hee Conny-catcher and a Shee Conny-catcher goes further to emphasize the role of Greene in reshaping criminal behavior. In this pamphlet Greene has his characters discuss his pamphlets and condemn him, in a manner similar to that of Cuthbert Cunny-catcher in the Defence. For instance, he has Nan say:

I heard some [crossbiters] named the other day as I was drinking at the Swanne in Lambethe Marche: but let them aloane, tis a foule byrd that defiles the [sic] owne neast, and it were a shame for me to speake against any good wenches or boon Companions, that by their wittes can wrest mony from a Churle. I feare me R. G. will name them too soone in his black booke: a pestilence on him, they say, hee hath there set downe my husbandes pettigree, and yours too Lawrence: if he do it, I feare me your brother in law Bull, is like to be troubled with you both…. I heare say R. G. hath sworne in despight of the brasill staffe, to tell such a fowle Tale of him [a certain criminal with the initials R. B.] in his blacke Booke, that it will cost him a daungerous loynt. (X, 225–26)

Such a passage as this serves to advertise the next pamphlet Greene may have intended to publish in this series, the 'black book' which would provide names of criminals and, presumably, lead to their arrest. The Blacke Booke's Messenger serves as an advertisement for this unpublished pamphlet, but it also serves to focus our attention on Greene and on the supposed response his pamphlets were receiving in the criminal world. If Greene is able to convince his readers that his material is accurate enough to make Nan, Lawrence, and Ned Browne nervous, then Greene is able to establish himself as a successful, or at least powerful, writer. Greene, however, doesn't rely entirely on his characters to establish his credibility. He concludes the debate between Nan and Lawrence with this paragraph:

Thus Countrymen you haue heard the disputation between these two cousoning companions, wherein I haue shakte out the notable villany of whores, although mistresse Nan this good Oratoresse, hath sworne to weare a long Hamborough knife to stabbe me, and all the crue haue protested my death: and to proue it in good earnest, they belegard me about in the Saint Iohns head within Ludgate: beeing at supper, there were some fourteene or fifteene of them met, and thought to haue made that the fatall night of my ouerthrowe, but that the courteous Cittizens and Apprentices tooke my part, and so two or three of them were carryed to the Counter, although a Gentleman in my company was sore hurt. I cannot deny but they beginne to waste away about London, and Tyborne (since the setting out of my booke) hath eaten vp many of them: and I will plague them to the extreamitie: let them doe what they dare with their bilbowe blades, I feare them not. … (X, 236)

Greene thus becomes a character of vital interest for his readers: he is a man able to effect change in his society and a man whose life is threatened by the unpleasant truths he has to tell. It is, however, difficult to take the words of this narrative voice seriously. The publication of his criminal pamphlets does not seem to be hindered by these alleged threats on his life, and Greene's popularity does not appear to have been diminished in any sense by fear of retribution upon his readers.

Certainly, criminals who felt that their particular conycatching schemes had been exposed could have claimed reason to wish him harm, but it would seem that they actually would have had reason to be thankful to Greene as well. In A Notable Discovery of Coosnage, as elsewhere in these pamphlets, Greene rejects opportunities to provide the names of criminals and to specifically describe ways in which honest persons are cheated: he tells the story of a man who fel among cony-catchers, whose names I omit, because I hope of their amendment (X, 31); he refuses to describe Cheating Law (which he admits to detailed knowledge of) by saying that although no man could better then myself discouer this lawe … , yet for some speciall reasons, herein I will be silent. (X, 37). Further, he repeatedly refuses to name his criminals, although he does not always hope for their later amendment.

Although critics have seen a progression within the series of pamphlets away from moral and political concerns and toward using the pamphlets to provide pure entertainment,7 the reluctance to expose his criminals when he claims he could must lead us toward looking for some other goal for these pamphlets. Were Greene's intent to provide social commentary, he could have done so much more effectively by more explicitly naming names and providing details, or by giving his information to the magistrates charged with imprisoning criminals and not limiting the usefulness of his information by providing it to readers only able to protect themselves and unable to cause social change.

If there were more efficacious ways in which Greene could have brought about the social change he claims to desire, more useful ways of living up to the explanation on the title page of A Notable Discouery that the pamphlet was written for the general benefit of all Gentlemen, Citizens, Aprentises, Countrey Farmers and yeomen, that may hap into the company of such coosening companions (X, 3); we must ask what Greene was up to in these pamphlets. Making money is certainly one valid answer, but it does not explain why he chose this kind of approach to popular literature, given the popularity of his romances. What these pamphlets achieve that romances could not is the illusion of representing social reality. They admit to taking place in London and around the English countryside, and the characters are colliers and drapers and apprentices and servants—and Robert Greene. They allow for the presence of the author in a concrete way, a way very difficult to accomplish in other kinds of fiction. Robert Greene becomes a character whose life is threatened in these works; he becomes a source for information his readers do not have and a character in the fictional world he describes. The boundaries between fact and fiction merge and cross so that Greene becomes no longer a writer of entertainment, but a 'social critic' whose criticism is actually fictional entertainment largely inspired by jestbooks. However, as Greene uses social commentary to justify and authorize his use of fiction, social commentary no longer becomes his focus, and, in fact, Greene begins to share in the culpability of the criminals he describes because he refuses to name names or treat the more serious crimes he allows 'Cuthbert' to criticize him for ignoring. Since narrative control and artistic authority are Greene's foregrounded concerns, social reform serves only as a backdrop to be manipulated into allowing Greene to develop his fictional art. This is not to say that Greene is to be criticized for writing fiction. On the contrary, I believe it is because of his narrative maneuvers here that his realistic fiction gained its sense of voice, authority, and purpose. Greene, however, achieves this strength by attempts to manipulate the populace into believing his stories of crime.

Greene's narrative strategies place his focus and interests within a kind of transitional system of texts which that allows him to remain a presence within the texts while preventing his readers from making the simple equation "the writer of these pamphlets = the Robert Greene I've heard about." The creation of Ned Browne and Cuthbert Cunny-catcher allows the reader to see just how easily some "other" characters can assume "Greene's" voice. Once that observation is made, the reader cannot be sure that the "other" narrative voice is not the primary narrative voice, the authorship of the Defence becomes disputed, and a clear split between the author and the narrator is established. The reader, then, must confront questions about his or her expectations for Greene's pamphlets, and must question (be it only subconsciously) his or her responses to the criminal exploits recounted. The narrative quality of these fictions encourages the reader to see the criminal activity purely as entertainment, not as illegal activity to be stopped, and once that interpretation has been made, Greene has successfully subverted the conventional impulses toward legality and morality on which he based his original overt appeal to his readers.


1 Sandra Clark, in The Elizabethan Pamphleteers, discusses Greene's pamphlets in terms of earlier criminal and rogue literature, as do Lawlis and Hibbard in their introductions to A Notable Discovery of Cosenage and The Third and Last Part of Cony-catching, respectively. Walter R. Davis, however, classifies the pamphlets as part of "the literature of fact" (183); and Richard Helgerson, in The Elizabethan Prodigals, finds in the cony-catching pamphlets qualities of Ian Watt's "realism of presentation" (8) while simultaneously recognizing that much of the contents of these pamphlets are "catchpenny collections of jestbook tales" (104).

2 Lawlis, in his introduction to A Notable Discovery cites two additional important sources: Thomas Harmon's Caveat for Common Cursitors (1567), and Gilbert Walker's A Manifest Detection of Dice Play (1552).

3 Arthur Kinney's Humanist Poetics makes a similar point about the errors of treating the pamphlets as fact. He states that Greene turns his readers "into his conies, tricked into buying and studying his exposés convinced they are factual rather than fiction" (335). I would, and will, shift Kinney's emphasis in two ways. First, I will argue that the object of 'study' in these pamphlets is not the criminal world but rather the nature of Robert Greene himself. Secondly, I place stress on the similarities between Greene's pamphlets and jestbook and rogue literature traditions, thus lessening the reader's tendency to accept the pamphlets as facts worthy of 'study.'

A note should be made here about the terms 'fact' and 'fiction.' I find it impossible to use them without being aware of the resonances Lennard J. Davis's work, Factual Fictions, has given them. His work has done much to explore the interaction between these two loose categories. I draw upon his sense of the terms as existing not as "two distinct and unimpeachable categories," but instead as ends of a continuum (9).

4 I have simplified the structure of A Disputation somewhat. The debate between Nan and Lawrence is followed by the first-person narrative of the Conuersion of an English Courtizan (X, 237–76). Greene's narrative voice provides a brief interlude between the two main sections of the work, and it also supplies a concluding jest about the deception of a sick man by his caregiver, and his subsequent revenge. (A further, but unrelated, point should be made about A Disputation. Although Linda Woodbridge does not include it in her discussion of Renaissance texts which debate the status of women, A Disputation deserves to be considered in the light of this tradition. In it, Nan is permitted to argue more convincingly than Lawrence, and so she 'wins' the debate: proving that female criminals are much more dangerous than male criminals.)

5 Recently, David Margolies has provided the most convincing evidence for Greene's authorship of the Defence. His research shows that the preface to the edition designated STC 5655 is identical to the preface of A Notable Discouery, although the preface of the Defence designated STC 5656 is signed by Cuthbert Conny-catcher (109–10). For arguments against Greene's authorship, see I. A. Shapiro (and David Parker's rebuttal) and A.F. Allison.

6 The narrative structure of The Third and Last Parte of Conny-catching deserves special mention here. In its preface Greene represents himself as at a dinner party attended by a gentleman who is privy to information from the magistrate's courts. This gentleman supplies Greene with his notes ostensibly from criminal trials, and the main text of the pamphlet is said to derive from this man's notes. Yet, the narrative voice is indistinguishable from that of the pamphlets written in Greene's voice, and the narrator occasionally refers to himself and his knowledge of events in the first person—leaving the reader uncertain as to the identity of the 'I' of the text. By creating this doubt, Greene further focuses our attention on the figure of the narrator.

7 See, for example, Hibbard (23) and Walter R. Davis (185–86).

Works Cited

Allison, A. F. Robert Greene, 1558–1592: A Bibliographical Catalogue of the Early Editions in England (to 1640). Folkestone. Kent: Dawson, 1975.

Clark, Sandra. The Elizabethan Pamphleteer: Popular Moralistic Pamphlets 1580–1640. London: Athlone P, 1983.

Davis, Lennard J. Factual Fictions: The Origins of the English Novel. New York: Columbia U P, 1983.

Davis, Walter R. Idea and Act in Elizabethan Fiction. Princeton: Princeton U P, 1963.

Greene, Robert. A Notable Discouery of Coosnage. The Second Part of Conny-catching. The Thirde and Last Parte of Conny-catching. A Disputation betweene a Hee Conny-catcher and a 1591–2 Shee Conny-catcher. The Blacke Bookes Messenger. The Defence of Conny-catching. Alexander B. Grosart, ed. The Life and Complete Works in Prose and Verse of Robert Greene, M.A. Vols. X–XI. London: The Huth Library, 1881–83.

Helgerson, Richard. The Elizabethan Prodigals. Berkeley: U of California P, 1976.

Hibbard, G. R., ed. Three Elizabethan Pamphlets. 1951. Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries, 1969.

Kinney, Arthur F. Humanist Poetics: Thought, Rhetoric, and Fiction in Sixteenth-Century England. Amherst: U of Mass. P, 1986.

Lawlis, Merritt, ed. Elizabethan Prose Fiction. Indianapolis: Odyssey P, 1967.

Margolies, David. Novel and Society in Elizabethan England. London: Croom Helm, 1985.

Parker, David. "Robert Greene and 'The Defence of Conny-catching'," N&Q [Notes and Queries] ns 21 (1974): 87–89.

Salzman, Paul. Elizabethan Prose Fiction, 1558–1700: A Critical History. Oxford: Clarendon, 1985.

Shapiro, I. A. "An Unsuspecting Earlier Edition of The Defence of Conny-catching," The Library, 3rd series, XVIII(1963): 88–112.

Woodbridge, Linda. Women and the English Renaissance: Literature and the Nature of Womankind, 1540–1620. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1984.

Further Reading

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Dickinson, Thomas H. Introduction to Robert Greene. In Robert Greene, edited with introduction and notes by Thomas H. Dickinson, pp. ix–lxvii. London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1909.

Considers four classes of sources for knowledge on Greene's life: records, autobiographical pamphlets and allusions, contemporary references, and legends; contends that Greene "represents the Elizabethan age at its best and its worst"; and explores the dates of creation of Greene's plays.


Applegate, James. "The Classical Learning of Robert Greene." Bibliotheque D'Humanisme et Renaissance XXVIII (1966): 354–68.

Asserts that many of Greene's classical allusions were distorted, invented, or misused, and probably insincere.

Cawley, Robert Ralston. "Robert Greene." In his Unpathed Waters: Studies in the Influence of the Voyagers on Elizabethan Literature, pp. 215–20. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1940.

Considers and excuses the many geographical errors found in Greene's works.

Clark, Sandra. "Rogue and Prison Literature." In her The Elizabethan Pamphleteers: Popular Moralistic Pamphlets 1580–1640, pp. 40–57. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1983.

Examines English rogue literature, particularly Greene's anecdotal pamphlets warning against criminals and villains.

Crupi, Charles W. Robert Greene. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1986, 182 p.

Gives a comprehensive study including a careful accounting of what is known of Greene's life, and examines his prose works, plays, and reputation.

Davis, Walter R. "Robert Greene and Greek Romance." In his Idea and Act in Elizabethan Fiction, pp. 138–88. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969.

Examines Greene's work with emphasis on classical Greek influences.

Hornát, Jaroslav. "Two Euphuistic Stories of Robert Greene: The Carde of Fancie and Pandosto" Philologica Pragensia 6, No. 1 (1963): 21–35.

Examines the subject-matter, plot, and themes of two of Greene's works.

——. "Mamillia: Robert Greene's Controversy with Euphues." Philological Pragensia 4 (1962): 210–18.

Analyzes Mamillia, focusing particularly on its vindication of women and comparing and contrasting the work with Lyly's Euphues.

Kinney, Arthur F. "Omni Tulit Punctum Qui Miscuit Vtile Dulci: Robert Greene's Fiction of Wonder." In his Humanist Poetics: Thought, Rhetoric, and Fiction in Sixteenth-Century England, pp. 181–229. Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1986.

Explores Greene's works in terms of their borrowing from Greek romances.

Margolies, David. "Robert Greene." In his Novel and Society in Elizabethan England, pp. 105–43. London: Croom Helm, 1985.

Presents an overview of Greene's works.

Macdonald, Virginia L. "Robert Greene's Innovative Contributions to Prose Fiction in A Notable Discovery." Shakespeare Jahrbuch 117 (1981): 127–37.

Contends that Greene showed original artistry in A Notable Discovery of Coosenage.

——. "The Complex Moral View of Robert Greene's A Disputation" Shakespeare Jahrbuch 119 (1983): 122–36.

Asserts that the moral ambiguities explored in A Disputation of a Hee and Shee Conny-Catcher constitute an attack on Puritan hypocrisy.

——. "Robert Greene's Courtesan: a Renaissance Perception of a Medieval Tale." Zeitschrift für Anglistik und Amerikanistik 32, No. 3 (1984): 211–19.

Views "Conuersion of an English Courtezan" as a psychological study that questions Puritan morality.

Salgado, Gamini. "Introduction." In his Cony-Catchers and Bawdy Baskets, pp. 9–24. Harmondsworth, Eng.: Penguin, 1972.

Discusses Greene's identification with his subjects in his underworld pamphlets.

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